Superstition is, and will probably remain, one of the major characteristics of the Irish people. One of the greatest sources of superstition, however, and one which has been the most productive of what are styled “well-founded and authenticated stories of supernatural occurrences,” is that ever changing ‘monster’ that is known in all its forms by the title of “Remarkable or Curious Coincidences.”
When events, which are precisely similar in detail, occur, they are considered coincidental. Some may consider them to be remarkable, given that these events are usually simple and ordinary. But, if these precisely similar events were repeated then they were considered to be a wonder. Quite recently, I was given an excellent example of this when I heard mention of a particularly curious coincidence having occurred not far from my home. It was the story of three men having been found drowned at various times during one winter season. Each body was found in the same river, at virtually the same place, and each wore two shirts. From that time it became a very strong belief among the locals that wearing two shirts was very unlucky.
Some people would suggest, however, that those people who would allow themselves to be guided by such beliefs would find their lives very burdensome. To be guided in their actions by these observations would require them to be in a state of constant alertness for the rest of their lives. The following story will, for instance, demonstrate the necessity of a person getting to know the names of fellow travellers, in case anyone with the name of Paddy Murphy be among them.
There was a time when the children in a large inland town rarely if ever saw the sea, unless they went on a day excursion organised by a local church group. In many of these seaside resorts enterprising persons often organise boat trips for fishing, sight-seeing, or simply for the experience of being on the open water. This was such in a resort that was, at one time, reachable by train from our home town. On one September morning a small pleasure boat with forty-one persons on board set out to travel down the Lough to the sea. It was a windy day, but not stormy enough to give any concern. When the boat reached the middle of the Lough the boat was overturned and only one man was saved. This fortunate man was called Paddy Murphy, a passenger on an excursion from m home town. Less than ten years after this incident a similar fate befell the twenty-five passengers aboard a small excursion craft. Again, only one man survived the incident, and he was called Paddy Murphy.
There are people who put a lot of credence in such coincidences, while others have belief in such things at all. Some people who have heard this story actually fear to trust their lives on any kind of boat with any man called Paddy Murphy. A little local knowledge and calm reflection, however, would go quite a way to removing such apprehensions. There are very few, if any, events in this life that cannot be traced back to natural causes.
The name of Murphy is very common in my home town, and Patrick, shortened to Paddy, is of course a favourite Christian name throughout all Ireland. There is every possibility, therefore, that persons with the name of Murphy, and very possibly even Paddy Murphy, were lost amongst the passengers on each of those occasions. But, the fact that people from the same town were on the excursions on each of those days appears to have been overlooked, while the coincidence of the individual saved on each occasion being of the same name was recorded. The events could have been simply accounted for by the ordinary rules of calculating odds or chances. Where the name of Paddy Murphy was common, there was certainly a greater chance of a person of that name being saved than one of any other, and, as has been remarked previously, no notice was taken of just how many Paddy Murphys had perished in these events.
Those who have read some of my books of Irish Short Stories or have followed my stories will know that they contain several stories about “The Banshee”, which, of all Irish spirits, fairies, and ghosts, is the most widely known. Those people from other countries who visit Ireland usually read up on the customs and folklore of the nation, along with its flora, fauna, and wildlife. Indeed, some visitors arrive believing that ‘The Banshee’ is one of the sites of our country and they seem to expect it to manifest itself to them at some time during their stay.
The Banshee, however, is an Irish legend whose roots go way back to the dark days of pre-history, when there were all sorts of mystical and magical creatures that were said to roam the land. But the first recorded sighting of ‘The Banshee’ was the spirit that attached itself to the Clan of O’Brien, from among whose ranks came several High Kings of Ireland, and haunted their old Castle of ‘Kincora’, the ruins of which remain near Killaloe in County Clare. Then, at the great and bloody ‘Battle of Clontarf’, that was fought in 1014 A.D. between the Irish and the Danes, Ireland’s famous High King, Brian Boru, was killed at the very moment of his victory. It is rumoured, however, that ‘The Banshee’ appeared to the old King on the eve of battle to tell him of his future victory, while forewarning him that he would not survive the battle.
There is a story from more recent times, which is said to have occurred in the countryside of North County Armagh. Although there are no longer any surviving witnesses to what happened at that time, the story is accepted as fact by the local community. The story tells us that at a house, which still stands in this rural area, an old man lay upon his deathbed waiting for eternal sleep to overcome him. The man’s three grown-up sons had, in the meantime, sent for the local doctor and were anxiously awaiting his arrival just as the first light of dusk crossed the sky. They were having a smoke on the front steps of the cottage, and they quietly chatting among themselves when they first heard the heavy rumbling noise of coach wheels on a metalled road. They looked up and they saw a huge, black coach drive into their farmyard, which stretched out from the main door of the house. Nervously, one of the old man’s sons went down to meet the coach, believing that it was carrying the doctor, but the coach swept past him at speed and continued to move down the lane to a gate. Witnessing all this, the other two sons ran after the coach, which was became hidden from view by high hedges, but they could still hear the rumbling of the coach wheels. In their rush, the two young men almost crashed into the gate, which was closed across the lane and barring the exit. The rumbling of the coach had stopped by this time and the carriage itself had totally vanished, without leaving as much as a wheel rut in the ground. The large padlock on the gate remained completely intact and there was no sign at all that the gate had been tampered with. But, a short time later, the doctor arrived at the house and he quickly came to realise that there was nothing that he could do for the old man, who died quietly only an hour or so after the visit.
There is an older story, which relates to an event that took place one night in early spring, in the middle years of the nineteenth century. Two house servants had been instructed to await the arrival of a coach, which was bringing home the family’s eldest son. The young man had travelled to England, and further afield, seeking a cure to the illness from which he was suffering, but all his efforts had proved to be fruitless. One of the servants, who had been dozing in the hall, was suddenly awakened by the heavy rumbling noise of an approaching coach. Still half asleep, he immediately awakened his companion and they both went out of the house door and down the long flight of steps to open the carriage door. But, as the servant reached out his hand to turn the handle to the door, he was surprised and terrified to see a skull looking out of the window at him. In his terror, he screamed loudly and fell in a heap at the side of the coach and, when he finally awakened once more the servant slowly picked himself up from the ground, but he saw neither sight or sound of the coach. About ten minutes later the invalid eldest son’s coach arrived, and the servants carried him to his bed. Unfortunately, the young man’s illness had become very much worse and his suffering ended when he died in his sleep.
On a winter’s night, at the beginning of the last century, a coach was seen by a gamekeeper who was doing his rounds of a large property, which stood in a scenic wooded glen among the beautiful Glens of Antrim. It was a calm and frosty night as he made his patrol of the property, and he suddenly heard the loud rumbling of wheels on the avenue that ran up to the back of the house. But he knew that it was not possible for any vehicle to be arriving at the property so late at night, and all sorts of strange thoughts began to enter his head. Recalling ancient legends from the district, his thoughts quickly turned to the possibility that the noise could be the approach of the ‘Death Coach’. As this possibility dawned upon him, he ran to open the gates on the avenue before the ‘coach’ arrived, and he just about managed to open the last gate and throw himself on the ground beside it, when he heard the coach go past. With his head buried in the damp ground the man did not actually see the coach itself as it went past, but the next day he heard the news that the property owner’s uncle had died suddenly in London. But, in this story, there is a very important fact for the reader and uninitiated to learn, namely that at the sight or sound of a coach all gates that might bar its way should be immediately thrown open. It is only by doing this can a person ensure the ‘Death Coach’ will not stop at their house to call for a member of the immediate family, but it will only warn of the death of a relative who is somewhere else.
Despite the many stories and legends about the Banshee, we must remember that she is not always the harbinger of death in Irish families, because certain families have other strange and varied warnings that death is near to them. There was one local family that I recall, who believed a death in their family is foretold by a female ghost, dressed in a white satin dress and opening the door into the living area where she walks across the room and through the hallway. A friend once told me that his family believed that the breaking of a mirror is an omen of death, while a cousin related that he knew of a family who was convinced that the independent opening and shutting of the farm gate foretells the passing of a family member. Among Irish families, there are varied traditions concerning the fore-telling of death, including one that says the cry of a cuckoo, in any season of the year, is a herald of death. In another family, that warning of death may be the sound of a ringing bell, even when there is not a bell in the house. I can remember my uncle’s wife telling me, at one time, that a rat crossing their path is a warning of a death in her family, while a neighbour’s family are certain that seeing a large white owl is a certain sign of death among them.
This list is short, but I am certain that there are many people from various areas of Ireland who could add to my list and make it much more comprehensive.
In my various readings and studies of Irish Traditions and Folklore I have picked up many useful notes on how best to behave. These notes refer to an ‘Irish Wake’, which is very solemn occasion, but also full of celebration that the soul of the dead person has gone to a much better place.
Consider these points:
Never use a short cut to bring a body home to the house of the church.
Stop the clocks in the ‘wake house’.
When fires go out, do not remove any ashes from the ‘wake house’.
Do not light a candle from the flame of another at a wake. If you cannot find a match or lighter, then light it at the fire.
Refuse no person a smoke at a wake, let them take at least a couple of draws.
Refuse no person a drink or a bite to eat but give out both liberally.
Don’t silence laughter, because it may be caused by humorous stories concerning the actions of the deceased.
Put a cloth over all mirrors in the house.
Besides the above there are several useful helpful tips and warnings about things that might just happen
A cock crowing at an unusual hour at night is a sign of trouble or death, while a hen crowing at any time is a much surer sign.
A dog crying round a house is also a sign of death in that house.
You should not look not in a looking-glass at night, and if you break a looking-glass, you’ll have no luck for seven years.
You should never brush a floor in the direction of the door, because if you do you sweep away all the luck that’s in the house.
Finally, other than something borrowed and something blue, a girl who is getting married should wear, on her wedding day, something that belongs to a married woman.
“Sure, I’ll leave you past the stream,” said an old man to a friend of mine who was leaving my house one night.
“Oh, don’t annoy yourself, Eddie,” my friend replied, laughing; “the night’s a clear one, and I won’t be afraid.“
“Sure, he’s not afraid of ghosts, Eddie? ” said I, when my friend had left.
“Och, God bless you! He isn’t afraid?” smiled Eddie, “well, I don’t think you know him very long or you wouldn’t be saying that.“
“Do you tell me he is afraid of ghosts!” I exclaimed.
“I do,” replied Ned emphatically, “that is unless he has changed greatly this last while.”
“And what good would it do him if you escorted him over the stream?” I asked.
“Ah! For goodness sake, do you know nothing at all? “
“I can assure you, Eddie, I, for one, am not well versed in those things. But I am very willing to learn.“
“And did you never hear that nothing bad can follow you past running water?” asked Eddie, astonished by my admission of ignorance.
“Honestly, no,” I replied. “Is that the truth? “
“Indeed, it is,” answered Eddie. ” Sure, I thought everybody knew that.”
“Well, no, Eddie! In that part of the country where I come from, the people believe in ghosts alright, but I don’t think any ever heard of that.“
“Well, now, isn’t that a quare thing,” said Eddie, looking down at the floor thoughtfully.
“And what would you do,” he asked, “if you were walking about at night, and, without hearing or seeing anything anywhere around you, you were to get a blow, very suddenly, on the back of your head?“
“By God! I suppose I’d turn around and strike back,” I answered and laughed.
“Ha ha! Well, that is where you’d be entirely wrong. Indeed, that would be a move that would do you little good. Damn the bit harm your fists would be doing, for you’d only be beating the air. And, at the same time, you’d be getting such a thrashing yourself that if you ever survived it, you’d be a lucky man, and be thankful for some good person’s prayers.”
“Well, tell me, what should I be doing then?” I inquired with great interest.
“What should you be doing? Is that what you’re asking me?“
“You should be walking on you should, until you cross a stream of running water, and whatever it is that would be trying to do you harm couldn’t follow you past it.“
“Oh, I see!” I replied, rather deflated by the answer he gave me, but to keep him encouraged I said, “That’s why you spoke about the stream a few moments ago.“
“Aye, that’s the very way son,“
“Then there must be some magic charm in running water?“
“To be sure there is, and why wouldn’t there be?” he exclaimed earnestly as if I doubted his word.
The Banshee or ‘The White Woman’, famed in Irish folklore is sometimes called the ‘Shee Frogh’, ‘House-Fairy’. She is usually represented as a small, shriveled, old woman. Occasionally, however, she is pictured as being a young, beautiful woman with long, flaxen hair, and it is this long hair that she is often depicted as combing, while she freezes the observer’s blood with her wild and startling wail that sounds every bit a soul-piercing melody.
A Banshee is reputed to herald the immediate death of members of a particular ‘Old Irish’ family. But, she is always to be seen alone at these times, in a melancholy mood, when she is found near the home-place of the doomed person, which may be familiar to her. Some folklorists will inform us that the Banshee is most likely to be the spirit of some person who had suffered a violent death at the hands of an ancestor of the doomed family. Frighteningly unrelenting, the Banshee repeats her vengeful wails from a single place, fulfilling her designated role as the herald announcing the imminent death of at least one of the guilty ancestor’s descendants. In many cases, her cry appears to be coming from a water source, a spring, a river, or a lake, with which the Banshee’s name is connected. In most stories that concern her visitation, it appears to matter little if she is a friendly spirit or an enemy of the people to whom her wails are directed.
The famed, but now ruined, castle of Terryglass and its four circular bastions, which stood proud on the four corners of its once massive walls, overlooks the upper waters of Lough Derg that lies along the course of the River Shannon. The remnants of those walls are still immensely thick, although they are not even one-third of their original height. On a fine and breezy autumn day, the rough waters of the Lough roll along with every sweep of the cool winds, and the wavelets that are created break upon the shore, a short distance from the stout foundations of this once massive fort.
The people who live in this area call the runs ‘Old Court’. The gateway to the castle opens toward the wide Shannon and, near it, one of the corner bastions is open to all who wish to enter. Inside, a broken and winding, but quite wide, circular stone stairway leads the visitor to the upper level of the Terryglass Castle’s walls. Those adventurous visitors who have strong nerves could, possibly, walk above the remaining grass covered tops, especially if no strong winds are blowing. Then, from this height, the visitor can look down upon the ground-plan of the ruined building and see that it is almost quadrangular. They will also see that a thick dividing wall separates the interior of the castle into two almost equal parts. Then, as the visitor makes their way, they will reach each angle of the fortress and may see, in the ruin’s interior, the circular bastions beneath him. These remain ina tolerable condition even after all these years, with old elder or thorny shrubs growing in the lower soil, while the narrow, looped windows on the outside are splayed inward, dimly lighting various compartments.
The entire structure rests upon a limestone rock foundation, around which rich meadow pastures, corn-fields, and tangled thorn fences stretch, or slope gently down to the bright waters of the lough. Around the castle, the lower walls spread near the foundations, and incline inwardly to a certain height, which helps to strengthen their superstructure in what, at one time, must have been an accepted military structural technique. Weather-beaten and worn are these old ruins, and they are choked with briars and shrubs. But traces of their former grandeur and vastness remain, leaving the visitor with enough evidence to show that this was once a lordly fortress in former times, with its parapets raised high in the air and proudly looming over the lough and its surroundings.
In those remote, historical days the halls of the ‘Old Court’ were inhabited by an Irish Chieftain called O’Carroll and his armed retainers. Within those, many centuries before, an evening’s entertainment ended with singing and dancing. But, when the old Harper drew his last tones from the strings of his ‘Clairseach’ (Harp), everyone retired to their beds and the guards went to take up their posts on the highest tower, where they kept watch through the night.
O’Carroll had ordered his men to make his private lake-boat ready for the next morning, along with his forester, Huntsman, and two strong soldiers. After breakfast, he had proposed to have his men row the boat over to the lower shore of Thomond, where he could visit one of the O’Briens. That morning the sun rose bright over the lough and the day was perfectly calm as the boat and its passengers sliced gracefully through the glistening surface of the wide lake. Very quickly the boat became just a speck to those who were watching its departure from the castle, and with the strong, regular strokes of the oarsmen, the boat eventually landed on a distant foreland.
The chieftain was not expected to return until the evening of the next day. But, while the night-watch prepared for their duty on the tower, and before the people in the ‘Old Court’ had gone to bed, a loud, piercing and unearthly wail was heard, and it sounded as if it was coming from the nearby lough. The hearts of those who heard it felt their hearts stop in terror, while the castle’s servants rushed to every loop-hole window in the upper storey and even onto the roof, to determine who was making this frightful lamentation and from where was it coming. In the night sky, the moon had just appeared, spreading its mellow light over the surrounding landscape and illuminated every object of any significance. It did not take the look-outs long to see a beautiful female figure, clad in white, with long flowing locks streaming over her shoulders. She glided slowly over the clear surface of the lake, while the piercing mournful dirge became momentarily more feint until, at last, it died away in the distance.
The shimmering figure finally dissolved as if it too was just one of the passing shadows of the night. These people, who had heard and watched the strange apparition for some time, now looked at one another in silent astonishment or made exclamations of wonder and foreboding. “There is no doubt, it’s O’Carroll’s Banshee,” cried out one of the watchers, “and I am afraid that some sad accident will soon bring an end to our chieftain!”
The next morning everyone’s eyes were anxiously directed across the lake toward the far-off shores of Thomond. A boat had already been sent toward Thomond earlier that morning with news of the strange warning to be taken to the chieftain. Since just before midnight the previous evening an unfortunate misunderstanding had arisen between O’Carroll and men from the O’Brien clan. An insult was alleged to have been directed toward the O’Briens and nothing would satisfy them but to settle the matter by force of arms. Although mutual friends made every effort to persuade the two sides of the argument to put down their arms, it was in vain. Both combatants insisted that their difference could only be decided on the lawn at the front of O’Brien’s castle before the morning dawned. For quite a while the talented and gallant swordsmen wielded their sharp, trusty swords against each other with great vigour. The duel went constantly back and forward, defence and attacks, cut and thrust, with neither man giving any quarter. But, the wary O’Brien seized upon an unguarded moment by his opponent and, without hesitation, he ran his sword through the heart of his adversary. O’Carroll, the Lord of Terryglass Castle fell dead upon the ground which was dampened by the morning dew.
With sorrowful tears in their eyes, O’Carroll’s men carried their chieftain’s remains towards the boat and with deep sadness, in their hearts, they pulled on their oars and rowed back across the lake to their home. Almost as soon as the boat was seen upon the lake many people rushed to line the Terryglass shore and welcome home their chieftain, but they did not know then that he was dead. Their grief and lamentation were loudly and angrily wailed when they saw the lifeless body of O’Carroll and heard the cause of his untimely fate.
The body was taken into the castle, where mourners and the funeral ceremonies were arranged. Finally, the chieftain’s remains were taken with all honours to the neighbouring churchyard of St. Columba MacCruinthannan, where they were consigned to the earth with all honours that were due to him. All the while, an immense crowd of weeping relatives and servants surrounded the grave as the final rites were completed.
This is a story adapted from an original tale written by John Keegan, an Irish writer, and storyteller, who was born in the townland of Killeaney, near the village of Shanahoe in County Laois (formerly Queen’s County). John was born in 1816, in the house of his uncle, Thomas Maloney, who was a local hedge-school teacher, with whom John’s parents lived. He was educated by his uncle, who had established a school in the sacristy of Shanahoe chapel, about 1822, prior to the erection of a school in the village in 1830.This particular story was published in 1846 and is an excellent example of Irish storytelling in the eighteenth century, before, during and after the great Famine.
It happened one evening last winter. It was a Christmas holiday evening, and the western wind was sweeping wildly from the grey hills of Tipperary, across the rich and level plains of County Laois. When a blast of wind blast roared down the chimney, and the huge raindrops pattered saucily against the four tiny glass panes which constituted the little kitchen window, I was sitting in the cottage of a neighbouring peasant. I was in the middle of a small but happy group of village rustics and enjoying with them that enlivening mirth and sinless delight, which I have never found anywhere else but at the fireside of an Irish peasant.
The earthen floor was well scrubbed over, while the various bits and pieces of furniture that existed were arranged with more than the usual tidiness. Even the crockery on the well-scoured dresser reflected the ruddy glare from the red fire with redoubled brilliancy, glittering and glistening as merrily as if they felt conscious of the calm and tranquillity of that happy scene. And happy indeed was that scene, and happy was that time, and happier still the hearts of the laughing people by whom I was, on that occasion, surrounded. It has been among people such as these that I have spent the lightest and happiest hours of my existence.
It was, as I said, a wild night. But even the violence of the weather outside gave an additional relish to the enjoyments within that building. The wind’s blast whistled fiercely in the cracks of the old and weather-beaten wall, but the huge fire blazed brightly on the hearthstone. The rain fell in torrents, but, as one of the company laughingly remarked, “the wrong side of the house was out,” and I myself mentally exclaimed with Tam O’Shanter,
“The storm without may roar and rustle,
We do not mind the storm a whustle.”
Meanwhile, to help wind up the climax of our happiness, a bit of a boy who had been dispatched for a large tankard full of ‘poteen,’ now returned. Within a few minutes a huge jug of half ‘poteen’ and half boiling water steamed on the table and was circulated around the smiling and expectant ring of people. It was passed with a speed, the likes of which the peasantry of Ireland will in a very short time, from certain existing causes, have not even the remotest idea.
Well, such an evening as we had, I shall never forget! It would be virtually impossible to even attempt a description of the festivities. Those who have witnessed similar scenes require none, and to those who have not, any attempt at one would be useless. All, therefore, I shall say, is, that such a scene of fun and frolic and harmless foolishness could not be found anywhere outside that ring which encircles the Emerald Isle. Even within that bright zone, nowhere but in the cabin of an Irish “peasant”
The songs of our fathers, sung with all that melancholy softness and pathetic sweetness for which the voices of our wild Irish girls are renowned. The wild legend recited with that rich brogue and self-deprecating humour that is peculiar alone to the Irish peasant. The romantic and absurd fairy tale, that is told with all the reverential awe and caution, which the solemnity of the subject required, long amused, and excited the captivated listeners. But at length, more is the pity, the vocalist could sing no more, having “a mighty great cold on him entirely.” The storyteller was “as dry as a chip with all his talking,” and even the sides of most of the company “were ready to split with all the laughing that was done.” Meanwhile, as if to afford us another illustration of the truth of the old proverb, “one trouble never comes alone,” even the old crone who had astonished us with the richness and the extent of her fairy lore, had also finished, having exhausted her huge reservoir of earthly spirits to entertain us.
Well, what could we do? The night was still young, and, better than that, a good drop still remained in the large tankard. Not surprisingly, as we all had contributed to procure the drink, everyone declared that none should leave until the very last drop was drained. But what were we to do to occupy ourselves? The singer was silenced, the storyteller was exhausted, and the volleys of wit and foolishness had exploded until everyone was exhausted from the laughter, and yet to remain silent was considered by all as the most uncomfortable way to spend such an evening as this.
Puzzled by this dilemma the man of the house scratched his scalp, and, in an sudden impulsive act, he stood up and handed me an old book that was covered in soot. “Maybe you’ll entertain us all by reading a story or two for the education of the company here, until it would be time for us all to go home?”
Without hesitation I agreed to do as he asked, and on opening the dusty and smoke-begrimed book discovered that it was, in fact, “Sir Charles Coote’s Statistical Survey of the Queen’s County,” printed in Dublin by Graisberry and Campbell, and published by direction of the Dublin Society in the year 1801. I was, of course, well aware that the dry details of a work that was exclusively statistical, were not designed to amuse, or even interest, an audience such as this. But sadly, the library of an Irish peasant is always, unfortunately, scanty. In this particular instance, with the exception of a few mediocre works on religious subjects, there was only this ‘Statistical Survey.’ Nevertheless, I was determined to make it as interesting to my audience as was possible. For that reason, I opened it at Sir Charles’s description of the immediate district in which we were situated, namely, the barony of Maryborough West, and townland of Killeany.
I began to read, “On Sir Allen Johnson’s estate stand the ruins of Killeany Castle, the walls of which are injudiciously built of very bad stones, although an excellent quarry is nearby. … ‘Poor-man’s Bridge’ over the River Nore was lately widened, and is very safe, but I cannot learn the tradition why it was so called.”
“Read that again, sir,” said a fine grey-headed, patriarchal old man, who was present. “Read that again,” said he emphatically, and I did so.
“He cannot learn the tradition of ‘Poor-man’s Bridge,’ the eejit!” the old man said with a sneer. “Sure, I can’t believe it. Normally, with a man of his education, I’d take his word as gospel. But, if he had come to me when he was travelling the country making up his statistics, I could have opened his eyes on that subject, and many others too.”
Some of those present laughed outright at the manner in which the old man made this confident boast. “You needn’t laugh! You can all just shut your potato-traps,” said the old man indignantly. “He might have thought he was a great man, with his gold and silver, his coach and horses, and his servants with gold and scarlet livery. But I could tell him a thing or two about the ancient history and traditions of our country. In fact, a lot more history and tradition than all those landlords and landowners whom he visited, could have given him on his tour through the Queen’s County.”
Such boasting only served to increase the storm of ridicule which was beginning to gather around the old man’s head. So, in order to put a stop to any potential bad feelings, which the occasion might cause, I asked him to simply tell us the tradition surrounding “The Boccough Ruadh.”
After some coaxing and some flattery, he agreed, and he began to tell us a curious story, the substance of which follows: –
The River Nore flows through a district of the Queen’s County that is famous for its fertility and romantic beauty. From its source among the blue hills of Slievebloom to where the river’s bright ripples mix with the briny waves of the Irish Sea, at New Ross, many excellent and even some beautiful bridges span its stream. Until the beginning of the last century, however, except in the vicinity of the towns, there were only a few permanent bridges across this river. In the country districts access, for the most part, was gained over the river by means of causeways, or, as they are often called “fords.” These were usually constructed of stones and huge blocks of timber that were fixed firmly in the bed of the river and extended in irregular succession from bank to bank. Over this pathway foot passengers crossed easily enough, but cattle and wheeled carriages were obliged to struggle through the water as well as they could. But, in time of flooding, and in the winter season when the waters were swollen, all communication was cut off except to pedestrians alone.
One of those “fords,” in former times, crossed the Nore at Shanahoe, a very pretty neighbourhood, about three miles northwards of the beautiful and rising town of Abbeyleix, in the Queen’s County. Here, the river winds its course through a silent glen, and several snug cottages and farmhouses arise above its banks at either side. The country in this neighbourhood is remarkably beautiful. Several great homes are scattered along the banks of the river in this vicinity, all elegant and of modern erection. Meanwhile, swelling hills, sloping dales, gloomy groves, and the ruins of churches, towers, and grey castles, ornament and beautify the scene.
About a hundred years ago, on a gentle piece of rising ground, along the eastern bank of the river, stood the cabin of a man named Neale O’Shea. At that time there was not another dwelling within a mile or two of the ford, and on many occasions, Neale was summoned from his midnight slumbers to guide the traveller as he made his way over the lonely and dangerous river pathway.
One wild and stormy December night, when the angry foaming water of the agitated river beat against the huge limestone rocks that formed the stepping-stones of the ford, Neale O’Shea’s wife thought she heard, between the pauses of the wind, the cry of someone in distress. She immediately awakened her husband, who was stretched out and asleep on a large oak stool in the chimney corner and told him to look outside. Neale, who was always willing to assist a fellow-creature, got up from his resting place. Flinging his grey cloak over his wide shoulders and grabbing hold of a long iron-tipped pole, which he constantly took with him on his nightly excursions, hurriedly made his way down to the river’s edge. He stood for a moment at the verge of the ford and tried to see through the intense gloom of the night, to try and identify a human form, but he could see nothing. “Is there any one there?” he shouted out in a loud voice, which rose high above the whistling of the wind, and the rushing of the angry and swift-flowing river.
A voice sounded at the other end of the ford, and with steady step great determination, crossed over the wet and slippery stepping-stones. “Who the devil are you?” Neale called out to the figure of a man who was stretched out on the brink of the river, very near to the entrance of the ford. “Whoever I am,” the stranger faintly replied, “you are my guardian angel, and it was surely my good fortune which caused you to come and rescue me from a watery grave.”
“Whoever you are,” said Neale, “come along with me, and Kathleen and the children will make you welcome in my cabin until morning.” Having given the invitation, he seized the bent form of the travel weary stranger and using all his strength to fling him on his back, Neale trudged over the stepping-stones, chuckling with delight, and happily whistling a tune as he went.
The dangerous path was soon crossed, and arriving at the door, Neale pushed it open before him, and with a smile he laid his trembling burden down on the warm hearth. A fine fire blazed merrily, and its flickering flames fell brightly on the pale face of the stranger. He was a tall, portly figure of a man, stooped as if from extreme suffering rather than from age, and he had a wooden leg. His features, which had evidently been handsome in his youth, were worn, pale, and extremely thin, and looked as though he might be about fifty years of age. His clothes were faded and ragged, and he was entirely without shoes or stockings. The man’s head was covered by a broad-brimmed leather hat, under which he wore an enormous red nightcap of coarse woollen cloth.
Neale’s good wife, Kathleen, now set about preparing supper, and while she was doing this, the stranger gave them both a brief account of his life. He told them that he was a native of the north of Ireland, and that he had spent several years of his youth at sea. He admitted that he had been wounded in a fight with smugglers on the coast of France, and after losing his leg, he had been discharged from his employment, and sent out into the world, without having one friend on earth, or a penny in his pocket. In this emergency he had no alternative but to beg for assistance from his fellowmen and had thus for the last twenty years wandered up and down the land, entirely dependent on the bounty and charity of the public.
Supper was now ready, and having taken a share of a comfortable meal, the wanderer went to rest in a comfortable “shake-down” bed, which the good woman had prepared for him in the chimney corner. The storm died away during the night, and next morning the watery beams of the winter’s sun shone faintly yet cheerfully on the smooth surface of the silvery Nore. The stranger was up at sunrise, and was preparing to leave, but his kind host and hostess would not allow him to go. They told him to stop a few days to rest, and in the interim, that he could do no better than take his post at the ford and ask alms of those who passed that way. There were always a great many people that passed there and, he was told, as nothing was ever begged from them in that place, they would cheerfully extend their charity to a person worthy of help.
Acting on their suggestions, the old sailor was soon sitting on a stone at the western end of the ford. With his old beret in his hand, and his head enveloped in the gigantic red nightcap, he begged for alms, in the name of God and the Virgin, from all those who passed that way. Before the faint beams of the December sun had sunk behind the distant hills, the old sailor could show that had earned more money than ever he did before, or since his limb was swept off by the shot of the smugglers.
The next morning, and every morning after, the sailor was to be found at his post at the ford. He soon became so well known to all the villagers, and from the circumstance of his always appearing with no other headgear than the red nightcap, they nicknamed him the “Boccough Ruadh.” This was the name by which he was known for ever after until his death.
The days and weeks passed by as usual, and the one-legged old sailor still conducted his lucrative employment at the river’s ford. Neale O’Shea’s cabin still continued to supply him with shelter every night, and all his days, from cockcrow until the final evening song of the wood-thrush, were spent at the ford, seated on that large block of limestone that is called to this day the “Clough-na-Boccough.”
The old sailor’s hand was stretched out to every stranger for alms, claiming it was “for the good of their souls,” and very few passed without giving something to the Boccough Ruadh. In this way he acquired considerable sums of money, but constantly denied having even a penny to his name. Whenever he was tormented by any of the neighbouring children about the size of his purse, he would get into a great rage. Angrily he swore, by the cross made by his crutch, that between buying a wee bit of tobacco and paying for other things he wanted, he hadn’t as much as would jingle on a tombstone, or as much that would buy a farthing candle to show a light on his poor corpse at the last day. He described the food that he ate as being the very worst, and unless it was supplied by the kind-hearted Kathleen O’Shea, he would sooner go to bed without supper than lay out one penny to buy bread. He allowed his clothes to go degrade into rags, unless any person in the area gave him old clothes for charity, and he would not pay for soap to even wash his shirt. Despite their best efforts, however, no one could find out what he did with his money. The man did not spend a half-crown in a year, and most people believed that he was piling it all up to give for masses that would benefit his soul on his dying day.
The years rolled by, and Neale O’Shea having reached old age, died, and was buried with his own people in the adjacent green churchyard of Shannikill, that lay on the banks of the winding Nore. The Boccough followed the remains of his kind benefactor to his last earthly resting-place and poured his sorrows over his grave in loud and long-continued lamentations. But though Neale was gone, Kathleen remained, and she promised that while she lived, neither son nor daughter should ever turn out the Boccough Ruadh.
It was now forty years since the Boccough first crossed the waters of the Nore, and still he was constantly to be found from morning until night on his favourite stone at the river’s side. In the meantime, all the O’Shea children were married, and spread out through various parts of the country, with the exception of Terry, the youngest son. He was a fine stout fellow, now about thirty-five years of age, who still remained in a state of bachelorhood, and said he would continue to be single, “until he would lay the last sod on his poor old mother.” He had great strength, and he inherited all his father’s kindness of heart and undaunted bravery. Terry was particularly attentive to the Boccough, whom he regarded with the same affection as a child would a parent.
One morning in summer, the Boccough remained in his bed longer than was his usual custom, and thinking that he might be unwell, Terry went to his bedside, and asked him why he was not up as usual. “Ah, Terry,” said the old man sorrowfully, “I will never get up again until I get the wooden box. Sure, my days are spent, and I know it, for there is something over me that I cannot describe, and I won’t be alive this time tomorrow.” and as he said these words, he heaved a deep groan, and Terry, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his coat began to weep bitterly.
“Will I go for the priest?” asked Terry, sobbing as if his heart would break.
“No,” replied the old man sorrowfully, “I do not want him. It is a long time since I complied with my religious duties, and now I feel it is useless.”
“There is mercy still,” replied Terry; “you know the old saying,
‘Mercy craved, and mercy found
Between the saddle
and the ground.’”
The old man did not reply, but shook his head, indicating his determination to die without the consolations that religion might provide, while Terry trembled for his hopeless situation. “Well, since you won’t have the priest, will you give me some money till I bring you the doctor?” said Terry.
The old man’s eyes literally flashed fire, his form heaved with rage, and his face showed an almost demoniac indignation.
“What’s that you say?” he demanded in a ferocious tone, and Terry repeated the question. “Send for a doctor? Give you money?” echoed the old man. “Where the devil would I get money to pay a doctor?”
“You have it, and ten times as much,” said Terry, “and you cannot deny it.”
“If I have as much money as would buy me a coffin,” said the Boccough, “may my soul never rest quiet in the grave.”
Terry crossed his brow with terror. He knew the unhappy wretch was dying with a lie on his tongue, but he resolved not to press the matter further. “You are dying as fast as you can,” remarked Terry; “have you anything that you want to say before you go?”
“Nothing,” he replied faintly. “But let me be buried with my red nightcap on me.”
“Your wish must be granted,” said Terry, and he went to awake his old mother, who still lay asleep. When he returned, he found the old man breathing his last. He uttered a convulsive groan and expired.
He was washed and stretched, and waked, with all the honours, rites, and ceremonies belonging to a genuine Irish wake. On the third day following, being the Sabbath, he was followed to the grave by crowds of the village peasantry, who remained in the churchyard until they saw his remains deposited, as they thought forever, in the rank soil of the cemetery.
There were many rumours that arose with respect to the Boccough’s money. Everyone but Terry believed that the fortune was now in the hands of Terry himself. But Terry, who knew better, believed, and affirmed that “what was got under the devil’s belly, always goes over his back.” In other words, that the “old boy” had taken the spoils, and that he had concealed them in some crevice along the bank of the river.
The night following the burial of the old sailor was passed in a very disturbed and agitated manner by Terry O’Shea. He did not sleep a wink, when he finally fell into a slumber, he jumped and moaned in his bed, appearing to be frightened and annoyed. “What’s wrong with you?” his old mother demanded affectionately. She was sleeping in the same room as Terry and was kept awake by her son’s restless and disturbed manner.
“I don’t know, mother,” replied Terry; “I am so frightened and tormented with dreaming of the Boccough Ruadh, that I am almost out of my natural senses. Even at this moment I think I see him in front of me, walking about the room.”
“Holy Mary, protect us!” screamed the old woman. “And it is no wonder that his unfortunate soul would be stargazing about, for he died without the priest, and a curse and a lie in his mouth!”
Terry groaned agitatedly at her words, and then the old woman asked him, “And how does he appear in your dreams?”
“As he always was,” replied Terry. “But I think I see him pointing to his red nightcap, and endeavouring to pull it off with his old, withered hand.”
“Umph!” said the old woman, in a knowing tone. “Ha! ha! I have it now. Are you sure that the strings of his night-cap were loosened before he was nailed up in the coffin?”
“I don’t know,” was the reply.
“I’ll go bail they weren’t,” said the old woman, “and you know, or at any rate you ought to know, that a corpse can never rest in the grave when there is a knot or a tie upon anything belonging to its grave-dress.”
Terry emitted another deep groan.
“Well, dear boy,” said the old mother, “go tomorrow, taking a neighbour with you, and open the grave to see if anything is astray. If you find the nightcap or anything else not as it should be, set it to rights, and close the grave again decently, and he will trouble you no more.”
“Please God,” replied Terry briefly but emphatically.
Early the next morning Terry was at the Boccough’s grave, accompanied by a local man. The coffin was opened, the corpse examined, and, according to the mother’s prediction, the red nightcap was found knotted tightly under the dead man’s chin. Terry immediately began to unloosen it, and in the act of doing so, a corner of the nightcap gave way, and out slipped a shining golden guinea.
“Ah ha!” mentally exclaimed Terry, “that’s no bent penny, for sure. There is a lot more where that was hid, but I had better keep a straight face about this!” So, without seeming to appear any way affected, he opened the knot, closed the coffin, shut up the grave, and left to go home, without once letting his companion aware of what he had seen.
The moment Terry entered door of his house, he told his mother about the golden guinea, and his determination to go back to the grave that very night and fetch the red nightcap home with him. Excitedly, he told her, “Body and bones and all, for that guinea has its friends about it, and I’ll bet you a bucketful of money that is where the old devil has hidden his fortune. That is why he insisted on me burying the red cap with him in the grave.”
“Wait a minute, sweetheart,” said his mother, with a note of worry in her voice. “Won’t you be afraid?”
“Afraid!” asked Terry, “Devil a bit of it! Afraid, me? And my fortune perhaps in that red nightcap.”
The mother consented to his adventure, but she made him promise not to tell anyone about the matter, in case it turned out to be a disappointment. Terry vowed that he would say nothing, and immediately set about his usual tasks in the garden.
At last, the night came, and Terry set about preparing for his strange adventure. All the folk arts and prayers and charms of old Kathleen were put in place to ensure his preservation from danger. Just as the clock struck the witching hour of twelve o’clock, with his spade on his shoulder, and his clay pipe in his mouth, the bold-hearted Terry set forward all alone to the graveyard. He walked along the winding banks of the dark river that glittered in the moonlight. He whistled as he strode on, but not to keep his mind busy, for never was man’s mind more busily occupied than was Terry’s, in deciding how he would spend the money which he expected to find in the ‘Boccough Ruadh’s’ nightcap.
After a short walk, Terry arrived at the churchyard. It was a lovely summer’s night, the full moon shining gloriously, and myriads of pretty stars blinking and twinkling in the blue expanse, but all their native lustre was drowned in the borrowed splendour of the brightly shining planet of Venus. Terry paused for a moment to investigate his surroundings, and, resting on his spade, he looked about him with an anxious gaze. There was nothing out of place. All was silent as the departed beneath his feet, except for the murmuring of the river’s waters flowing past, or the barking of some village dog in the far distance. Terry moved on to the grave of the Boccough, and in a few minutes the ghostly moonbeams shone upon the pale, grim features of the dead. He snatched the nightcap quickly from the bald head of the corpse, put it in his pocket, and, despite his fears and the great terror that he felt, Terry chuckled to himself as he quietly commented on the “dead weight” of the Boccough’s headgear. He then closed the coffin, and as he proceeded to cover it, the clay and stones fell on it with an appalling and unearthly sound. Then, with the grave covered up again, Terry again shouldered his spade, and sought the river’s edge, striding hurriedly along its banks in the direction of his home. In the quiet of the night, he could clearly hear the splash of an otter and the diving of a waterhen, both of which momentarily disturbed the thread of his lonely thoughts.
Terry was soon at his mother’s side, who since his departure had been on her knees, praying for his safe return. The nightcap was ripped up, and from it flowed three hundred golden guineas as his reward for his churchyard adventure! Stitched carefully in every part of the huge nightcap, the gold lay secure, so as not to attract the notice of anyone, or cause the least suspicion of its nearness to the old man’s scalp.
Terry and his mother were ecstatic. Farms were already purchased in minds, cattle bought, houses built, and Terry even began in his mind to make preparations for his wedding with Annie Kinsella. She was a rich farmer’s daughter of the neighbourhood, for whom he had breathed many a hopeless sigh, and who, in addition to her beauty, was possessed of fifty pounds in hard gold, a couple of good yearlings, and a featherbed as broad as the “nine acres.”
The mother and son retired to bed, as happy as the certain possession of wealth, and the almost as certain expectations of honour and distinction, could make them. After a long time spent in constructing and condemning schemes for the future, Terry fell asleep. He had not slept long, however, when he started up with a loud scream, crying out, “The Boccough! The Boccough!”
“Och, Jaysus he is seeing the Boccough again!” exclaimed the mother. “Is he coming for the nightcap and the gold?”
“Oh, no,” said Terry, calmly. “But I was dreaming of him again, and I was frightened.”
“What did you dream to-night?” asked the old woman.
“I was dreaming that I was going over the ford by moonlight, and that I saw the Boccough walking on the water towards me. Then he stopped at a certain big stone and began to examine under it with his hands. I came up to him and asked him what he was searching for, when he looked up with a frightful look on his face, and he cried out in a monstrous voice, ‘For my red nightcap!’”
“God Almighty never opened one door but he opened two,” exclaimed old Kathleen. “Examine under that stone to-morrow, and as sure as there’s an eye in a goat, you’ll find another fortune of money in it.”
“Maybe so,” replied Terry, “sure, there’s no harm in saying ‘God willing,’ and that He may make a thief of you before a liar.”
“Amen, to that,” replied Kathleen.
Next morning at daybreak, Terry got up, and proceeded to the exact same stone where he had dreamed that he had seen the spirit of the Boccough. He examined it closely, and after a thorough search, discovered in the sand beneath the rock a leather pouch full of money. He cheerfully seized it, and on counting its contents, found it amounted to almost a hundred pounds, in silver and copper coins. “What a lucky born man you are, Terry O’Shea!” cried the overjoyed treasure hunter, “and what a bright day it was for your family that the Boccough Ruadh crossed over the waters of the Nore.”
“It was not a bright day at all, but a wild, gloomy, stormy night,” said the old woman, who, unknown to Terry, had followed her son to watch the success of his treasure hunt.
“Who cares about that?” said Terry, “There never was so bright a day in your seven generations as that dark night. I am now a rich man, and I would not salute the Lord Lieutenant at this time.”
That joyful day was passed by the happy mother and son counting and examining the gold, and again proposing plans, and considering the best purposes to which it could be applied. They passed the hours until the summer sun had long sunk behind the crimson west, and Terry again went to bed. He jumped from his sleep with a wild shriek, “Mother of mercy!” He then frantically screamed aloud, “Here is the Boccough Ruadh! I hear the tramp of his wooden leg on the floor.”
“The Lord save us!” said the old woman in a trembling voice, “what can be the trouble with him now? Maybe it’s more money he has hid somewhere else.”
“Oh, do you hear how he rattles about the place! Devil a thing in the cabin but he will destroy it,” exclaimed poor Terry. “It’s a black day for us whenever we caught sight of himself, or his dirty trash of money. And, if God saves me till morning, I’ll go back and leave every bit of it where I got it.”
“Sure, wouldn’t that be a terrible crime to leave so much fine money simply moulding in the clay, while there are so many in want of it. Well, you shall do no such thing,” said the mother.
“I don’t care a jot for that,” said Terry. “I would not have that old sinner, God rest his soul, rummaging every other night about my honest decent cabin for all the gold in the Queen’s County.”
“Well, then,” says the old woman, “go to the priest in the morning, and leave him the money, and let him dispose of it as he likes for the good of the old vagabond’s unfortunate soul.”
This plan was agreed to, and the conversation dropped, although the ghost of the Boccough still rattled and clanked about the house. He never ceased stumping about, from the kitchen to the room, and from the room to the kitchen. Pots and pans, plates, and pitchers, were tossed here and there. The dog was kicked, the cat was mauled, and even the raked-up fire was lashed out of the grate. In fact, Terry declared that if the Devil himself was about the place, there couldn’t have been more noise than there was that night with the Boccough’s ghost, and this continued without a pause until the bell of Abbeyleix castle clock tolled the midnight hour.
Terry got up out of his bed the next morning at sunrise, and he packed up the money, which he believed was the cause of all his trouble, in his mother’s check apron. Then, with a heavy heart, he proceeded to the parochial house, which was about two miles from the present Poor-man’s Bridge, to see the priest. The priest, however, had not yet risen when Terry arrived, but being well known to the domestics, the young man was admitted into the priest’s bedroom.
“You have started early,” said the priest; “what troubles you now, Terry?”
In response, Terry gave a full and true account of his troubles and concluded by telling the priest that he had brought him the money to dispose of it as he thought best. “I won’t have anything to do with it,” said the Father. “It is not mine, so you may take it back again the same road.”
“Not a piece of it will ever go my road again,” said Terry. “Can’t you give it for his unfortunate old soul?”
“I’ll have no hand in it,” said the priest.
“Well, neither will I,” said Terry. “I wouldn’t have the old miser thumping about my quiet floor another night for a king’s ransom.”
“Well, take it to your landlord. Sure, he is a magistrate, and he will have it put to some public works connected with the county,” said the priest.
“Bad luck to the lord or lady that I will ever take it to,” said Terry, turning on his heels, and running down the stairs, leaving the money, apron, and all, on the floor at the priest’s bedside.
“Come back, come back!” shouted the Father urgently and with increasing anger.
“Good morning to your reverence,” said Terry, as he sprang and bound across the priests’ garden like a mountain deer. “Ay, go you back! You have the money now, and you may make a bog or a road with it, whichever pleases you more.”
An hour later, the priest’s servant man was on the road to Maryborough, mounted on the priest’s own black horse. Strapped in a large bag behind the servant was a sealed parcel containing the Boccough’s money, and a letter addressed to the treasurer of the Queen’s County grand jury. This letter detailed the curious circumstances by which the money came into the priest’s possession and recommending him to use it for whatever purpose the gentlemen of the county should consider the most urgent.
The summer assizes came on in a few days, and the matter was brought before the grand jury, who agreed to use the money to build a stone bridge over the ford where it was collected.
Within a year from that day, the ford had disappeared, and a magnificent bridge of seven arches spanned the sparkling waters of the River Nore, which pretty broad at this point and of considerable depth. From that day to this it has been called the “Poor-man’s Bridge,” and I never cross it without thinking of the strange circumstances which led to its erection.
The spirit of the Boccough Ruadh never troubled Terry O’Shea after that day, but often, as people say, amid the gloom of a winter’s night, or the grey haze of a summer’s evening, the figure of a wan and decrepit old man with his head enveloped in a red nightcap, was seen wandering about Poor-man’s Bridge, or walking quite “natural” over the glassy waters of the River Nore.
If you visit Ireland or read Irish folklore and traditions you will undoubtedly come across many important warnings with regard to gaining peace, happiness, and good fortune. Now, there are very few of us that do not want good luck and the good fortune that it brings. So, for those of you who desire to have good luck I have gathered some of the more well-known warnings that fill Irish tradition.
The first of these is that you should never put a boot on your foot until you have two stockings on, i.e. one on each foot and not two on one foot. Any person who does not pay heed to this warning should abandon any hope of luck. It is said that Columbcille once put on a sock and a boot on one foot, intending to do the same with the other foot. Unfortunately, the saint’s enemies came upon him just as he was preparing to put on the second sock and was, therefore, unable to run away and avoid capture. It was at this time that the saint put his course upon any person who should do the same as he had done.
Another warning says that if you are driving any animals to market and you meet a person who does not ‘bless’ them, be sure that before the person passes on you say, “God Bless your heart, your eye, and my share.” By saying this you will protect the animals from being ‘blinked’ by that person’s evil eye.
It is equally important that the ploughman guards his horses from the same dreadful evil of ‘blinking’. When he is approaching the end of the field, if he sees any person standing there to whom he must speak, he should never allow the horses to stand until he has turned their faces towards the other end, with their tails to the person. This will ensure the horses will be safe while the ploughman talks to the person.
All of the above warnings are means of preventing the ill luck of ‘blinking’, and it is always said that “Prevention is always better than cure!” But you might wonder if there was a cure for ‘blinking’, and the answer is “Yes”.
It is often said that “Quick is the glance of an eye under any circumstance, but quicker by far is the glance of blinker’s eye.” The harm that we fear could have already been done before we can guard against it. So, counteracting such an evil spell should be our immediate aim, and there is, thankfully, an effective antidote that we should remember. Firstly, the animal should be struck with any part of your clothing. In older times it would be said with ‘the tail of your coat’, and next the ground. This procedure should be repeated three times if a complete cure is to be obtained.
You are also warned that when you travel along a lonely road at night you should keep to the centre of the road, walking between the wheel tracks and keeping in the tracks made by your horse. Doing this will ensure that nothing can harm you while you follow those horse tracks.
Now that we are approaching the Christmas season it is important that you don’t give anything away on New Year’s Day. But if you find this unavoidable ensure the person who gets it from you brings something to you first. For example, if your neighbour’s fire happens to go out in the morning, do not give the neighbour any coal until you first receive turf. In the same way never, for any reason, allow a coal to be taken from your house while there is any person within the house who is sick. Also, it is important that you remember that under no circumstance allow a coal out of your house on a Monday morning.
It is also important that you give away no milk from the first churning, and the person to whom you give milk from your dairy should ‘bless’ the milk and the cow which gave it.
In the North of Ireland, it was always said that you should not “dung the byre” after the sun had set. Tradition forbade any removal of manure, or the sweepings of the house, after that time. Such chores were to be attended to during the day, “after the sun had risen, and before he has set.” Furthermore, on New Year’s day no ashes or food waste should be put out, and all the water you need for use in the house is to be brought in before dark on New Year’s Eve.
“Wait ’til I tell you, Mickey Brennan, it’s not that I don’t have a great regard for you as a man. Indeed, it’s true that you are a decent sort of boy, and that you come from a decent family. But I have to say that, the long and short of it is, I just don’t want you to be running about after my wee girl anymore.” Such was the concluding portion of a very long and unfriendly speech that had been undertaken by old Brian Moran of Loughcroy. Old Brian’s sole purpose for giving such a speech was, simply, to persuade his daughter’s sweetheart to cease paying her any further attention. It is a difficult task that parents occasionally need to take upon themselves and it is a task that is never very easy to carry out. Indeed, the entire affair become even more difficult when the couple in question are unceremoniously separated from each other, having very much believed that they had been born for each other.
Everyone who knew Michael Brennan, knew him to be a quiet, unassuming young man who was always respectful to his elders. On this occasion, however, he was not very successful in holding either his patience, or his temper, on this occasion. “Why? Dear God, Brian Moran!” he exclaimed angrily, “I beg, in the name of all that is holy, just give me one good reason why I should be separated from her? Whether the reason be good, bad, or indifferent, and I’ll be satisfied!”
“Och, what am I to say to you, you unfortunate eejit of a boy. Now don’t be questioning me on this bloody decision anymore,” responded Brian in a way that suggested to Michael that he wasn’t entirely happy with the decision himself.
“And why shouldn’t I?” asked Michael. “Do you think that I should just give up so easily, and we playing together since she could walk. Has that girl not been the very light of my eyes and the pulse of my heart, these six long years since we reached a proper age to know how things were between us. Now, you tell me when, in all of that time, did either you or your good wife ever say, or even hint, until this damned minute that I was to cease from courting her? Will you just tell me that.”
“Would you give my head a bit of peace, Michael!” Brian groaned at the young man. He put his hands to his ears to keep himself from hearing the questions, especially when he did not have the ability to give the boy a straight answer to them.
“That’s true enough,” he finally conceded. “This whole mess is all down to Peggy, God forgive her, and I wish she she had told you herself. I knew how you would be when you were told this, and don’t blame you in any way for being angry. When she hears it all, it will kill young Mary completely.”
“Has this all come about because you feel that I am not wealthy enough to be keeping her in a proper manner?” Michael asked him with all the impatience of a teenager.
“Not at all, Michael,” Brian replied, “it’s nothing like that at all. But, if you want to be sure, can’t you wait an’ ask Peggy, herself?”
Michael chose to totally ignore any mention of Peggy’s name and asked ‘Old Brian”, “Is it because there’s something against me?”.
When Brian didn’t answer immediately, Michael asked him again, “Is it because there is something against me, I asked you? Is there a warrant, or a summons, or has somebody spoken against me?”
“Jaysus Christ! Did I not just say, no more questions?” sighed Brian, feeling overwhelmed by the young man’s questions. “Just wait a wee while and you can ask all you want to know off Peggy, Michael!”
“No, Michael!” insisted Brian, “There was never a word said against you. My God, sure you have never done anything wrong that would cause a person to speak out against you. In all honesty, my lad, it is that which is breaking my heart. Total damnation to that bloody woman of mine, but this is all Peggy’s fault.”
“What?” exclaimed Mickey in disbelief. “I bet you that Peggy has had a bad dream about Mary and I. Come on, Brian! Out with it! Tell us what Peggy the Pishogue (Prophetess) has to say for herself. Come on, out with it, man dear!. My whole life is being tossed upside down for something your Peggy has dreamed up!”
“Oh Michael, for Jaysus’, be at peace, and don’t be talking that way about Peggy,” Brian told him. Mickey had offended him by talking in such a manner about his wife, whose previous visions had always come to pass. “Whatever she says, doesn’t it always come true?” Brian reminded him. “Didn’t it rain on last Saturday, even though the day looked fine at first? Sure didn’t Tommy Higgins’s cow die on him? Wasn’t Annie Creaney married to Jimmy Knox after all? And wait ’til I tell you, that as sure as your name is Mickey Brennan, what she says about you will also come to pass. In fact, God forbid that it should happen to anyone else of your decent family!”
“In the name of God, Brian, tell me what’s going to happen to me?” Mickey asked in a trembling voice, despite his efforts to adopt an uncaring attitude, especially after he had commented quite contemptuously upon Peggy’s reputation of being the wisest of women. In fact, Peggy’s reputation stood very high among the people of the district, and Mickey should not have tried to sound too unconcerned about being seen in unfavourable circumstances in any of her visions of the future.
“Ah Jaysus, Michael, don’t ask me such things. Please don’t ask me,” was Brian’s pitiful answer, “Maybe you should just get all your things together now, as quickly as you can, and go straight toFather Corry.The priest might be able to give you some sort of blessing that will give you a chance to escape all the bad luck that’s in front of you.”
“It’s all crap! Total bullshit! And, by the way, Brian Moran, you should be ashamed of yourself for spreading such rubbish.”
“There’s not one word of a lie in it, I’m telling ye,” Brian insisted. “Peggy seen it all last night, and, in all honesty, the poor woman is as troubled about it, almost as if you were her own flesh and blood. Look, sure isn’t that a mole you have there under your ear?”
“Well, and what if it is?” Michael replied in a quite uncaring tone. But, in reality, he was very disturbed by the concern that his future was causing both Brian and Peggy. “What if I have a mole? Sure there are many men who have a mole in the same place as myself!”
“That’s very true,” Brian replied. “But, Mickey, my friend, didn’t they have the same bad luck come to them as well. Now listen to me, you poor, ignorant wee crature, you would not want me to give my blessing to have my poor wee darlin’ girl marry a man who will sooner or later end his days swinging at the end of a rope on the gallows!”
“The gallows!” screamed Mickey Brennan,slowly, “Jaysus Christ and his Holy Mother! Is that what Peggy says is going to happen to me?” He tried desperately to laugh derisively and defiantly at what he thought was preposterous idea. But, Mickey could not do it. Deep down he was truly shocked by what Brian had told him. He knew that this was not a matter to be laughed at, and he had to finally give in to those fears he had tried so hard to resist. Almost as a sign of his surrender to the inevitable, Mickey buried his face in his hands as he threw himself violently to the ground.
Meanwhile, Brian was equally, deeply moved by the revelation he had made to Michael. Though it was his wife’s, Peggy, vision that he had revealed he sat down beside young Brennan and tried to console him as best as he could. Before all this talk of visions had gotten in his way, Old Brian had nothing but a good deal of admiration for young Michael. He was among the more well-to-do people of the district, and had gathered a small amount of wealth about him. Mickey owned a good, fertile piece of land and his farm produced a good harvest of crops, pigs, cows and sheep. The fact that he owned all these things in his own name made him the most eligible bachelor among all the young men of the district. Mary Moran, however, was more interested in Mickey’s handsome good looks and muscular physique.
Mickey’s family were all very well off and highly respected in the area, but both his mother and his father were dead and his only sister had gotten herself married just before Lent had began. Naturally, having all the advantages of wealth and freedom, you would think that Mickey could have selected any girl in the parish to be his bride. But, Mickey had made his choice of a wife many years ago. His eye had fallen upon Mary Moran and they had both given each other their hearts. Both Brian and Peggy were happy with their daughter’s choice and had never thought about disputing it. Brian didn’t even have second thoughts after he came to the decision that he would could give his daughter a money gift, which, at the time, amounted to double what Michael Brennan was worth. There was not, perhaps, the same certainty about the money gift when it came to Peggy. A mother always worries about her daughter and, being such careful creatures, they always want to see that any future son-in-law is financially independent. This is always true when it comes to an Irish mother who has a daughter of marriageable age.
Peggy Moran was as good an Irish mother as any other and she was somewhat concerned about the amount of money that Brian was about to shower on Mary. She argued strongly with Brian about the agreement he had made and she tried everything possible to change his mind. But, Peggy’s efforts were all in vain, however, because as much as Brian usually submitted to her advice, he loved his pretty daughter Mary. This great love that he held for his daughter strengthened his resolve in this matter. Every time Mary cried at her mother’s insinuations,, Brian always words to comfort her. On those occasions when Brian’s words of comfort were not enough, he always got Mickey and Mary together, and left them to settle the matter in their own way.
Peggy was not the type of woman who gave up easily, and she was determined that she would have her way in this matter. Such was her reputation as a seer, after all, that one word from her could break up any match that had been made in the district, and that included her very own daughter’s match whether Brian liked it or not. To this end Peggy now applied all her tricks, and every ounce of her cunning to the task. Firstly, she could not allow Brian to shower the young couple with all that money. And so, Peggy talked about the dreams that she had been given about the match between Michael and Mary. She read the tea leaves and consulted the burning embers of the fire in which she saw all sorts of strange signs concerning her daughter’s relationship with Michael Brennan. Calling upon her entire knowledge of magic and the world of spirits, she was rewarded with a vision that revealed Michael Brennan was destined to end his days on the gallows.
There were some parishioners, who thought themselves older and wiser than most, that considered the very idea of Peggy Moran being something of a prophetess as an ugly sort of joke. There were many more in the Parish who believed she had become so devoted to the dark spirits that her knowledge and skill in supernatural matters was very strong. They called her ‘The Pishogue‘, a name that implied she had a knowledge of more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamed about. It was a title that was certainly not misplaced in Peggy’s case. There was not a university professor more deeply read in science and medicine than was Peggy when it came to all the signs and omens whereby the affairs of this world are foretold.
There seemed to be nothing too great or too small for Peggy to not get involved. She was expert in every form of fortune telling, from reading tea-leaves to magic. She could read a person’s future in the mystical dregs from a tea-cup, which assumed a variety of shapes that would puzzle any learned person. By just taking a glance at some symbol, or other, she could immediately detect its true meaning, and foretell deaths, births, and marriages, with the same infallibility as a newspaper. Even those dreams that would mystify the wisest of men would be quickly unravelled by Peggy. At the same time, there was not a ghost, or other spirit, in the entire country with whose haunts and habits she was not familiar with, almost as if she one of their number. There wasn’t a single fairy that could put its nose outside without being detected by Peggy. Meanwhile, there were many property owners in the district that employed Peggy to use her skills and charms against all manner of theft and loss. When news of these ‘Spirit Blessings’ became known the properties concerned increased a great deal in their value.
We could spend an entire lifetime describing every mystical talent that Peggy possessed, and to relate every one of the successes she had. But, it would a certainty that there would still be those among you who would still not believe in all the things that Peggy had said and done. Yet, the people of the parish were very much aware of Peggy’s achievements and had great confidence in all she said and did neighbours. Not only her friends and neighbours had trust and confidence in her, but also her closest family, Brian and Mary. With such a status within the community around her, it is no wonder why so many people believed her when she foretold the coming disaster that would befall Mickey Brennan.
It should come as no surprise to you then that Peggy’s revelation created a great sensation, especially after several old gossips, to whom she had imparted her discovery, were put on oath not to say one word about it. Instead they were told that they should hush up the entire matter for the young fool’s peace of mind. Those people who had a close friendship with Michael also worried about his fate, because not even the most sceptical among them would dare to question the truth and certainty of Peggy Moran revelation. Rather than scrutinising the sources of her information they preferred to view the entire matter as being one that required their sympathy for their friend. Everyone viewed Peggy’s warnings as being certain, and some of Michael’s friends even declared, “that since the thing cannot be avoided, and Mickey, poor fellow, must be hanged, we can only hope it is for something worthwhile, decent, and not thieving, or cheating, or anything like that.”
You can appreciate that in all of this the hardest task in this story is to describe the feelings that poor Michael Brennan, himself, felt about the situation. He did everything he possibly could to make Peggy’s revelations appear to be the foolish superstions of a very weird woman. Unfortunately, Michael had grown to believe in the apparitions just as much as any other person in the district. Though he tried very hard to ignore the revelations made about him, his efforts were fruitless and a dark sense of despair quickly overcame him.
Now it’s all very well and good for you to preach long and hard about the advantages of education, and its ability to overcome old superstitions. But, take my word for it, that it will take a very long period of time to root out the centuries held superstitions from the hearts of the Irish people. Be assured that, until that bright day dawns, Ireland’s many country villages will still have their ‘Wise Women’, and what they say will be regarded as gospel truth by the vast majority of their neighbours. Of course, there will always be a number of people who will pour scorn on such things, but there will be many more who will very respectfully beg leave to doubt them. There will always be, however, those who believe wholeheartedly in the words and visions of the ‘Wise Women’. If truth be told, in the more remote inland villages that dot the hillsides and mountains of Ireland, there are events occurring almost every day that are far more strange than anything that you are being told in this story.
Michael Brennan found it increasingly difficult to keep calm in the face of the denunciation that had been made. Sadly, only comfort that he could get from those people around him was, “The gallows is a good death for an Irishman.” In those days the majority of Irishmen who were sent to the gallows were considered martyrs for the cause of Ireland’s freedom from the British Crown and they were, therefore, considered by most to be good men and women. This, of course, was the last thing on Michael’s mind. Peggy’s revelation had caused him to begin losing any hope he had of becoming a husband to his beloved Mary. No longer having this hope filling his heart with joy, Michael began to wish that death, instant and immediate, would come quickly and carry him off. As his anxiety and depression grew, death, it seemed to him, would be a great relief and it would also show that Peggy’s prophecies could not always be relied upon to come true.
It will, therefore, come as no surprise to you to learn that, in the depth of the depression brought about by his mental suffering and fear for the future, Mickey made a failed attempt upon his own life. When he was sure, in his own mind, that there was no one close enough to stop him, Mickey plunged himself into a nearby lake. He quickly discovered, however, that he was not alone at that moment. A local man, who was looking after sheep, saw Michael plunge into the lake and went to rescue him. The shepherd, however, was quite a distance away and, by the time he had reached the lake, Mickey’s body was to all appearances lifeless. His discovery was quickly spread about the parish, causing shock to all who heard the news. It was like the game of ‘Chinese Whispers’ that went the rounds and finally declared Mickey’s death, but the description of that death was different each time it was described. Some said that Mickey Brennan had lain in the cold, dark water for at least ten minutes, while others said a half an hour, half the day, and even since the previous night. There was only one point that was consistent in each story told, and that was the agreement saying that Mickey Brennan was as dead as a door-nail.
Only Peggy Moran didn’t believe the news that she was given. “Would you all stop your bleetin’,for God’s sake, sure the man’s not dead,” she told the crowd that had gathered.
“If you would all be quiet for a few minutes, the man might just come to! When have you ever known a man who is born to be hanged was drowned. So, just wait a wee while and hold your tongues, for this is all nonsense, I tell you. Mickey Brennan will live long enough to spoil somebody’s day, and more’s the pity.”
Her words seemed to fall on deaf ears, however, Many began to shake their heads, some even suggesting that Peggy had mistaken rope for water in her dream about Brennan. All their doubts soon vanished, nonetheless. Slowly and quite mysteriously, Mickey began to recover from his rash effort at suicide. By recovering, unfortunately, he fulfilled much of the destiny that Peggy had for him. At the same time, Mickey raised Peggy Moran’s reputation to an even higher point beyond than it had been previously.
During the days that followed Peggy’s fame rose even higher. She discovered six cases of stolen goods, twice discovered that the fairies had interfered with the milk churns on nearby farms belonging to their neighbours, and she was invited by a large number of people to tell them their fortunes. In the meantime, poor Mickey Brennan finally realised that his destiny could not be avoided so easily, and he resigned himself to what his fate would be. But, if he was to die on the gallows, he decided that he would seek out the best possible opportunity to face the gallows without any disgrace to his people, or family name. Mary Moran, however, was deeply heartbroken with grief at her beloved’s declared fate and she just could not imagine anything that could be worse for her to bear, though she would soon discover that there was .
In a very short period of time there began a new whisper that began to creep through the parish. This new whisper promised death and disaster on some very unlucky unknown person. Rumours said, “Peggy Moran has something on her mind,” and this alone made the people impatiently wonder as to what that ‘something’ could be. When anyone gathered enough courage to question her on the mystery, Peggy remained silent and slipped into a mysterious with a shake of her head. Constantly in her mouth was a lit ‘Sweet Afton’ cigarette, which she never removed unless she lay on her bed to sleep, or sat down at the table to her meals. The more people that now asked her questions, the angrier Peggy became, which was not usual for the woman. She began to avoid all sorts of conversation, which was very definitely not her way either. These actions, naturally, served to arouse interest and curiosity of her neighbours to an agonising pitch. Peggy now had every one trembling that the result of the new prophecy would be some terrible revelation that might affect any single one of them.
For every person in the district the question of who was the subject of Peggy’s new prophecy became the first question asked each morning, and the last question at night. Every word that Peggy spoke became a matter of the greatest speculation to every person who heard her. Such was the tension among the people of the district that there was a danger that the people themselves would go absolutely mad with fright if they were kept in the dark much longer. Eventually the secret was discovered, but at some cost the the discoverer.
One night Brian and Peggy were sitting together in front of the fire for a while before they went to bed. As he sat there with his wife, Brian head that he should try and discover the source of Peggy’s sorrow. After asking her many questions, and getting no straight answers, Peggy told him, “Brian darlin’ it is very good of you to ask and to show your concern. But, my darlin’ old man, there is no use in hiding it anymore. It is all about you.”
“Jaysus, Peggy, Lord bless us and keep us.”
“Indeed, Brian,” replied Peggy gently as she exhaled a large cloud of tobacco smoke from her mouth and nostrils. “ These last couple of days I’ve noticed that you just have not been at yourself.”
“Christ, Peggy! You could be right and maybe I am not at myself,” said Brian anxiously.
“Do you not feel something different about yourself, Brian. Maybe your heart darlin‘?”
“By God,I do. You’re right enough, Peggy. I do feel something different,” Brian told her, willing to believe almost anything she said about him.
“ It’s something like a pleurisy, isn’t it?” she suggested in a mournful tone of voice.
“Ay, right enough, Peggy. It’s just like a pleurisy and may the good God keep me safe from harm!”moaned Brian.
“And I’m sure you feel the cold these night, Brian?” continued Peggy.
“Oh! Holy God, Peggy! Sure I’m foundered! My body is as cold as ice,”answered Brian, and his teeth suddenly began to chatter as if he had fallen into an icy cold pond.
“And your appetite must be completely gone, darlin’?” Peggy continued with her questions.
“Isn’t that the truth of it?” he answered. Brain now believed completely that he had been struck down by some great illness. He had totally forgotten that less than an hour previously he had finished off a pot of potatoes, cabbage and bacon, washed down with a pint of buttermilk.
“Just look at that old black cat, taking a good look at you now, after it has licked her paw,” said Peggy.
“As sure as there’s an eye in a goat, there’s a divil in that cat! I wouldn’t put it past her that she is waiting for me to breathe my last,” said Brian sadly.
Peggy moved a little closer to her husband. “Let me feel your pulse, darlin’,” she said and Brian weakly submitted his trembling wrist for her inspection. As she checked for a pulse, Brian anxiously stared at her face to see if there was any indication as to what his fate would be. At length, a long, deep sigh broke from her lips, accompanied by another huge cloud of cigarette smoke, and she let go of Brian’s arm. Then, to Brian’s surprise, Peggy began to rock herself to and fro, muttering some words or other in a low, moaning voice. Brian was certain that this was an ominous sign of what his fate would be.
“Ah, Jaysus, Peggy, surely to God I am not going to die am I?” he asked his wife anxiously.
“Dear, Oh dear, my darlin’ man!” roared Peggy in anguish, “Never did I ever think that when I married you, Brian my love, that I would ever see the sorrowful day when I would cry the widow’s wail over you. God knows, Brian, but you were the best of a man to me, young and old!”
“Oh Peggy!” Brian sighed loudly as his wife continued her lamentations.
“Ah don’t talk, my darlin’ man, don’t talk to me. Sure I’ll never be able to hold my head up again in this district, so I won’t!” Peggy continued to lament loudly and her wailing quickly brought everyone in the house around her, and finally all the neighbours gathered.
As all these people gathered together there was a great uproar, with people giving mixed ideas with noisy explanations about the cause for Peggy’s lamenting. But, despite their best efforts, there were none who could provide consolation to either Brian or Peggy. Young Mary clung to her father in total despair and grief, while Old Brian mouthed over his prayers as fast and as correctly as his dismay would allow him.
As the morning dawned of the next day, Brian could just not gather the will-power to get up and out of his bed. He refused all that was offered him to eat, and he demanded that the priest should be sent for without delay. Every hour that passed seemed to be worse than the previous hour, as Brian moved from one period of unconsciousness to another. Those at his bedside received a running commentary on the symptoms he was feeling, which seemed to encompass every complaint that ever troubled mankind. He complained bitterly that he was crippled by pain in every part of his body, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. The doctor who attended him could make neither head nor tail of the illness, which had struck down Old Brian Moran. Totally mystified, this man of science declared that the complaint was the greatest oddity complication that he had ever heard of. In fact, he was so annoyed that he believed Brian was making the entire illness up and needed a good kick in the arse to pull himself out of his self pity. At the same time, the Doctor suggested that the best treatment for Peggy was to throw her into the nearest river to help calm her down.
When he arrived on the scene the Parish Priest was equally puzzled by what was happening. “ Brian, what in the name of God, Brian is wrong with you, man dear?” he asked.
“My body is being killed all-over the place with some sort of illness or other,“ replied Brian pitifully. The priest looked at the old man and had to admit to himself that he was bothered by the fact that a man like Brian could not rise from his bed.
Despite every urging of the priest to rise, Old Brian remained where he was and moaned, “What use is there in a man getting up from his bed, and him going to die anyway? Is it not far easier and more decent for me just to die in bed like a good Christian?”
“Ah now, Brian, sure God’s good and maybe this is not yet your time to die,” said the priest.
“Now, don’t be talking your old nonsense, Father. Sure doesn’t my Peggy know best?” Brian told him and with this he closed his ears to all words of consolation that people spoke to him. Even the tearful words spoken by his heart-broken daughter, Mary. Referring to traditional remedies the doctor decided he would try and apply a herbal poultice to the man. He made up a poultice, much stronger than was normal and assured everyone that it would have Brian up from his bed and walking by the next morning.
By this time there were a good many people gathered into the small cottage, hoping to witness Old Brian being cured. The doctor, however, was so distracted by their presence that he felt they could have all been done without. But, these people were a godsend for Peggy, and she turned to them moaning and weeping, and declaring her total lack of faith in any of these modern remedies. She kept on insisting that she had no other expectation than that she would be a sad widow by Sunday. Then, quite unexpectedly, Old Brian was roused a little by the application of the poultice and, with a weak voice, asked be heard.
“Peggy, my darlin’,” said Brian, “there’s no denying that you’re a wonderful woman and, since I’m going from you, it would be a great kindness if you would tell us all how you found out that I was do sick, even before I knew it myself. I’m only curious, darlin’ woman. I just don’t want to die and not know why, or for what reason. Wouldn’t I look the quare fool if someone above was to ask me what I died of, and I couldn’t tell them.”
Peggy looked sorrowfully at her husband, while she told him that she was willing to do him this last favour. In a sobbing voice, Peggy began to explain, “It was Thursday night week,” she began, “sure it’s a night I’ll never forget, Brian, should I live to be a hundred years old. It was just after my first sleep that I began to dream, and I dreamed that I went down to Danny Kelly’s butcher shop to buy a bit of beef. Surely, you remember, it was that day that he had slaughtered a young bull for the butcher’s block. I was sure that when I would go into his house I would see a fine carcase hanging of beef hanging but, all that I saw hanging up was an ugly looking carcase that did not smell too fresh. Says Danny Kelly to me, with a mighty grim look on his face, “Well, woman, what do you want? Is it some of this meat you’re wanting?” ‘Yes, says I, but none of that old rubbish! That’s not the type of meat we’re used to.’ “Ah sure, who cares?” says he to me, “I’ll cut you out a rib.” ‘Oh, no thank you all the same,’ says I and put out my hand to stop him, and what do you think he did? He raised the hatchet and brought it down upon my hand, cutting the ring on my finger into two.”
There were murmurs heard among the gathered crowd as her story came to its end. The meaning of the dream had suddenly been revealed to Old Brian and he unmoved for a while. Everyone in the room looked to Brian to see how he had taken the explanation as to his imminent death when, suddenly, he sat bolt upright in the bed, with his mouth and eyes wide open. “In the name of God, Peggy,” Brian slowly exclaimed, when he had recovered a little from the surprise, “do you mean to tell me that’s all that’s wrong with me?”
Startled by Old Brian’s extraordinary question, Peggy and her crowd of supporters stared at him. For a moment it appeared to them that he was about to leap out of the bed, and forcibly display his indignation to his wife. Although he was known as a quiet man, his temper was just well known. His bodily strength, however, failed him as he attempted to get out of the bed and, roaring with pain, he returned to is lying down position on the bed. Nonetheless, Peggy’s infallibility among the local people was now at an end. The doctor’s poultice had done the trick and in a few short days Brian was able to stump about as usual, threatening everyone with extreme violence if they dared to laugh at him. Laughter, however, is something that is not so easily controlled, and Brian’s foul temper was worsened to such a degree by the ridicule he had encountered, that he now became determined to seek a reconciliation with young Mickey Brennan. He decided that all of Peggy’s gloomy prophesies could go to the devil, and he would give the Parish Priest a job to do for the young couple. Mary and Mickey, as a result, were married and, thanks be to God, Mickey did not end his days on the gallows as Peggy had prophesied.
In Irish folklore, there are many mysterious and frightening creatures from a dark world that roam this world unseen. They can be said to be the spirits of the dead, who are not yet ready to accept their final destiny, ‘eternal rest’. These spirits are the heralds of death, destruction, and evil. They are also the embodiment of Satan him/herself. The following are descriptions of some of these dark spirits.
The Devil is the personification of evil as it is conceived in many and various cultures and religious traditions, the ultimate hostile and destructive demon. Any attempt to give a general definition that will cover all traditions and cultures is virtually and describing it as “the manifestation of evil” is somewhat inadequate. We can only look at the devil through the images that the various cultures have developed as part of their mythology. As a result of independent development within each tradition, the devil is given many names and powers. Generally, however, it portrayed in colours of black, blue, or red, and portrayed as having horns on his head. But, not in every case. In Celtic tradition, there are two candidates for this post, i.e Cernunnos and Balor (Celtic Irish).
is the conventional name given in to depictions of the ‘Horned God’ of Celtic mythology. He was the Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and ruler of the underworld, whose name appears in many forms throughout the Celtic World. Cernunnos is usually depicted with the antlers of a stag, sometimes carrying a purse filled with coin, often seated cross-legged and often associated with animals and holding or wearing torcs. Unfortunately, not much is known about the god from literary sources, and details about his name, his followers or his significance in Celtic religion are unknown.
is a more likely candidate for being the Devil of Irish mythology. The name itself may come from the Common Celtic ‘Baleros’, which means “the deadly one”. In the ancient tales of Ireland, Balor was the tyrant king of the Fomorians, who were a group of supernatural beings.
Balor was said to be the son of ‘Buarainech’ and husband of ‘Cethlenn’, and deadly tyrant who oppresses the island of Ireland from his fortress on Tory Island, off the coast of Donegal, where there are features called Dún Bhalair (“Balor’s fortress”) and Túr Bhalair (“Balor’s tower”).
He is often described as a giant with a large eye that wreaks terrible destruction when it is opened. The story of ‘The Cath Maighe Tuireadh’ (“The Battle of Magh Tuireadh”) calls it a “destructive” and “poisonous” eye that no army can withstand and says that it takes four men to lift the eyelid. This great battle was said to be fought between the ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’ against the ‘Fomorians’ by Lough Arrow in County Sligo.
In later folklore, he gained a reputation for being the bringer of drought, blight, and the scorching sun. This may have derived from the later traditions saying that – “He had a single eye in his forehead, a venomous fiery eye. There were always seven coverings over this eye. One by one Balar removed the coverings. With the first covering the bracken began to wither, with the second the grass became copper-coloured, with the third the woods and timber began to heat, with the fourth smoke came from the trees, with the fifth everything grew red, with the sixth it sparked. With the seventh, they were all set on fire, and the whole countryside was ablaze!“
Balor’s story tells us that he heard a prophecy that he would be killed by his grandson and, to avoid such a fate, he locked his only daughter, Ethniu, in a tower on Tory Island to prevent her from becoming pregnant. Then, one day, Balor stole a magical cow of abundance, from Goibniu the smith, and took it to his fortress on Tory Island. Cian, who was guarding the cow for Goibniu, set out to retrieve the cow and, with the help of the druidess Biróg, he entered the tower, finding Ethniu and had intercourse with her. Angered by Cian, Balor seized him and put him to death. Then, when Ethniu gives birth to a son, Balor attempts to drown the child in the sea or has the child set adrift on the sea to die. The child, however, was saved by the sea god Manannán, who raises the child as his foster-son, whom he named Lugh. This child, Lugh, eventually becomes king of the ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’ and leads them in the Battle of Mag Tuireadh (Moytura) against the Fomorians, who are led into battle by Balor. Legend tells us that Lugh killed Balor by casting a spear made by crafted by Goibniu, or a sling stone, through his eye and that Balor’s eye destroyed the Fomorian army before Lugh finally beheaded Balor.
Another legend says that, when Balor was slain by Lugh, he fell face first into the ground and his deadly eye beam burned a hole into the earth. This great hole filled with water and became a lake which is now known as Loch na Súl (“Lake of the eye”) in County Sligo. There is yet another tradition, which claims that Balor was the grandson of Nét and that he met his death at Carn Uí Néit (“Cairn of Nét’s grandson”), which is known in English as Mizen Head.
The ‘Fear Gorta’ is only one part of a huge collection of Irish folklore, but it speaks directly to the suffering experienced during the ‘Great Potato Famine 91848-49)’. The striking image of wasted legs that is usually described in stories containing the ‘Fear Gorta’ may have been derived from the starvation conditions of the Irish peasantry during the ‘Potato Famine’. Even in these modern days the images and memories of the famine play a major part in psyche of the Irish people. Folk-stories help the people to come to an understanding of these terrible circumstances that affected the famine-stricken.
There are many stories within the archives of the ‘Irish Folklore Dep.’ In UCD which refer to the ‘Fear Gorta/ach’ as “The Hungry Grass” as well as the thin-legged spirit (Hungry Men). These stories were collected all over Ireland, but many came from the ‘Gaeltacht’ area (Irish Speaking) through the offices of the Irish Folklore Commission, after it began operations in 1935. It was a massive undertaking to salvage and preserve the nation’s folklore in written transcripts of sound recordings, and from questionnaires, etc. It was, however, among the more generalized collection of folklore that the stories of ‘Fear Gorta’ emerged.
In the various manuscripts, references to the ‘Fear Gorta’ come in the form of belief statements, extensive memories, or third-party accounts e.g.
“This account was given in 1941. The narrator feels that, however, horrible the current war is (WWII), Ireland’s most dreadful story is the ‘Great Famine’. But, the people themselves believe that the ‘Fear Gorta’ constituted their great suffering, and it was not just bad food, or the shortage of food. Treading on a certain spot, or area would result in sudden weakness; no strength in the hands or legs; and the knees bent and trembled, the victim fell, crippled and senseless, and would remain so until the food could be given – a bit of bread or a few grains. Many narratives are told about people who have had the experience.” (Iml. 81:90 (Clare))
All the stories agree on both components that make up the experience (sudden weakness and extreme hunger when crossing a particular spot) and its remedy (consumption of some form of food, no matter how small.) Some folklorists have referenced the ‘Fear Gorta’ as a talisman, which is mistaken. A Talisman is something that wards off ill-fortune. In this case food is not warding off ill-fortune but rather a remedy for the ill-fortune brought by the ‘Fear Gorta’.
There are two reasons frequently given in the archives as to how certain places might acquire the ‘Fear Gorta.’ The first reason usually involves not leaving crumbs of food on the ground after an outdoor meal or offering thanks to God after such a meal. The second reason is usually a certain patch of ground that has come into contact with a corpse. This may happen if someone rests a dead body on the ground on the way to a wake-house. This latter reason brings an association with death at specific places. The resting of a corpse on the way to a wake-house does not involve the act of dying and, therefore, has little to do with the tragedy and its consequences. At he same time, this particular belief does involve unnatural death, which introduces crises within the victim’s community.
Thanks is to be given to – Davis Deborah R. 1994. “Images and Meanings of Purgatory in Folk Expression: A Cultural Thanatology.” and Logan, Patrick. 1972. “Making the Cure: A Look at Irish Folk Medicine.” Talbot Press. Dublin.
Fairy Hound (Cu-sidhe)
According to Irish and Scottish folklore, the ‘Cù-sìdhe’ is described as being the size of a young bull, but with the appearance of a dog. It has a shaggy coat of fur, which is usually a dark-green colour, though it is occasionally white. The hound’s tail has been described as being long and either coiled up or braided. With paws as wide as a man’s hand, its form is very graceful, and always instantly distinguished from mortal, non-magical dogs by its bright red eyes and the red inner lining of its ears.
The ‘Fairy Hound’ is one of the most formidable enchanted beasts that can be occasionally met in lonely rural locations, where it makes its home among clefts of rocks and roams moors and woodlands where Ireland’s Fairy folk dwell. The ‘Cù-sìdhe’ was feared as a bringer of death and would appear to bear away the soul of a person to the afterlife. In this role, it holds a function similar to that of the ‘Bean Sidhe’ (Banshee) in Irish folklore. It was said that even the mere sight of one of these creatures would bring the observer bad luck while speaking or touching one usually meant certain death. If it is treated with sufficient courtesy and compassion, however, a fairy hound can occasionally bring the observer good fortune.
According to the tales of legend, the ‘Fairy Hound’ was capable of hunting silently, but would occasionally let out three terrifying barks, and only three. These barks could be heard for miles by those listening for it, even far out at sea, and those who heard the barking had to reach safety by the third bark, or they would be overcome with terror to the point of death. Some said that the baying was also a dire warning that nursing women should be locked up safely for fear the hound would abduct them and take them to a fairy fort to supply milk for the ‘Daoine-sidhe’.
At one time the wolf was an integral part of Ireland’s countryside and culture, but they are now extinct. Indeed, the last wild wolf in Ireland was said to have been killed in 1786, three hundred years after they were believed to have been wiped out in England, and a century after their disappearance in nearby Scotland. It is not surprising, therefore, that Wolves feature prominently in the mythology of Ireland. A mysterious creature called Airitech had three daughters, who appeared as werewolf-like creatures and were eventually killed by Cas Corach.
‘Mac Tire’ is the Irish word for wolf, literally meaning ‘The Son of the Country(side)’, keeping an association with its ability to transformation from a human being. Some consider this tradition not to be of native Irish and yet there are many references in Irish mythology to ‘lycanthropes’ and the changing from human form to other animal forms.
‘Faoladh’ and ‘Conroicht’ are both Irish words for “Werewolf” and, as you will learn, the Irish werewolf is a complex creature that is just as often helpful as it is deadly. Unlike other folk traditions, Irish werewolves were considered guardian spirits, who protected children, wounded men, and the lost.
The famous Norman historian of the 12th century, Gerald Cambrensis, wrote a topography of Ireland and described the Irish people as being barely civilised. He had, undoubtedly, a vivid imagination, believing Ireland was an exotic place where natural marvels were widespread. As a result, he told the most fantastic stories and presented them as fact. One such tale was “The Werewolves of Ossory”, which begins with a priest who travelled from Ulster to Meath. On this journey the priest and his companion were taking a rest by a fire, which they had lit in a clearing, when a wolf-like creature came upon them and began to talk. The wolf told them, “There are two of us, a man and a woman, natives of Ossory, who, through the curse of ‘Natalis’, saint and abbot, are compelled every seven years to put off the human form and depart from the dwellings of men. Quitting entirely the human form, we assume that of wolves. At the end of the seven years, if they chance to survive, two others being substituted in their place, they return to their country and their former shape.”
The manner in which the wolf spoke to them gave them bot a sense of reassurance and they listened as the wolf explained that his female companion was dying, and that he wished to have the last rites from the priest. Unhesitatingly, the priest followed the wolf to the lair, where he saw the female wolf near to death. But he had serious doubts about administering the sacrament to an animal until the male wolf reached out, pulling off her wolfskin and revealing an old woman. He was content, now, to give her the last rites and she died peacefully. Happy with this outcome the wolf stayed with the priest and his companion all that night, talking. The priest, it is said, subsequently passed on this story to his bishop, who sent it all the way to Pope Urban III.
There is a variant of this story, which describes the pagan Irish mocking St. Patrick’s preaching by howling like wolves. Totally enraged by such behaviour the Irish Saint curses them all by changing them into wolves, or that he changed King Vereticus into a wolf.
Cambrensis also states, “The descendants of the wolf are in Ossory. They have a wonderful property. They transform themselves into wolves, and go forth in the form of wolves, and if they happen to be killed with flesh in their mouths, it is in the same condition that the bodies out of which they have come will be found; and they command their families not to remove their bodies, because if they were moved, they could never come into them again.”
In another text, ‘The Coir Anmann’, we hear of Shamans and other magicians who are able to send out their spirits, while they continue to lie as if they are dead, or asleep. “It says “ Laignech Fáelad, that is, he was the man that used to shift into fáelad, i.e. wolf-shapes. He and his offspring after him used to go, whenever they pleased, into the shapes of the wolves, and, after the custom of wolves, kill the herds. Wherefore he was called Laignech Fáelad, for he was the first of them to go into a wolf-shape.”
They were said to be fearsome warriors who, howling like wolves, fought for the ancient kings of Ireland, and were every bit as fierce and ferocious as the beasts whose shape they took. They, it is told, lived in remote areas, and unlike the werewolves of Ossory, they could turn into wolves whenever they wanted. There are tales that point out that these warriors would fight for any king who could pay their price, which was not measured in gold, but in the flesh of new-born babies.
They supposedly flourished during the reign of ‘Tigernmas’, who also followed Crom Cruach, according to the ‘Book of Leinster’ version of The Roll of Kings. ‘Tigernmas’ was a real king, who is famed for mining the first gold and introducing the art of working gold. The tales say, “… he died in Mag Slecht, in the great Assembly thereof, with three-fourths of the men of Ireland in his company, in worship of Crom Cruaich, the king-idol of Ireland; so that there escaped thence, in that fashion, not more than one-fourth of the men of Ireland; under Mag Slecht.”
In Irish folklore the ‘Fiann’ are well known as a group of landless young men and women, often sons of lords who had not yet inherited property. There are many stories about these brave bands, mainly in the ‘Fenian Cycle’ or Fianna ‘Fiannaíocht’, which relate the tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warriors, and mentions bands of werewolves, and their relationship to witches, fighting off sorcerers who steal the grain and animals from the local farmers.
‘The Morrigan’ is the name given to the Goddess Morrigan, who is one of the triple Goddesses in Celtic mythology, and her name means ‘Great Queen’ or ‘Phantom Queen’. Representing ‘the circle of life’, she is associated with both birth and death, and being a shape-shifter she watches over the rivers, fresh water and lakes. In Irish mythology she is also described as being the Goddess of revenge, magic, priestesses, night, prophecy and witches.
‘The Morrigan’ is often depicted as a triple goddess, but this varies according to the source of research. But, in Celtic mythology, the number three has incredible significance and, occasionally, she is featured as one of three sisters, while on other occasions she is singular. In almost every artistic representation of the Goddess she is represented as being young, with long, flowing dark hair. Her clothing is black and sometimes very revealing, while she is sometimes cloaked so as not to show her face. Because ‘The Morrigan’ is a shape-shifter, she is often shown with one of the more common animal forms that she would assume, i.e. a crow or a raven. There are occasions when she is associated with horse symbolism and has been linked to ‘Epona’, the equine Goddess. There is one thing that is not disputed and that is, in every representation she is shown to be strikingly beautiful, and yet very intimidating.
It is difficult to find the exact origin of Morrigan in existing texts since much of Celtic mythology has either been destroyed or lost over the generations. But many say that she was part of the Tuatha de Danaan, a mythical race living in Ireland, who were descendants of the Goddess Danu, whose son, Dagda, was a powerful leader. While the story of ‘The Morrigan’s’ family is difficult to unravel, legend says that she was the daughter of Ernmas. She is supposed to have had several siblings, including Badb, Macha, Banba, Fohla and Eriu, while she and Dagda married and had a child. Other sources state that the pair only encountered each other on one occasion, and that, at a river. But the fruit of this encounter, or relationship, is said to have been a child, who was given the name Adair.
‘The Morrigan’ is known for her strengths, which include her ability to instil fear in those who opposed her, and she often helped to protect the people from invading armies by blowing a layer of fog over the land, thereby decreasing visibility. Although she did have some weaknesses, she is better known for her vindictiveness and her willingness to kill if she felt she was disrespected. She is forever linked to the festival of Samhain and is usually symbolically represented by a crow or raven.
Poor Sean Maguire died, just as Mr. Roche suspected he would, and the gold and the notes were found quilted into his wretched clothing. A search was then made for any of his relatives from in and about Moneygeran. in the West of the County, where his mother was known to have lived. Meanwhile, as much was taken from the hoard by ‘Big Peter’, in whose premises he died, as was necessary to buy a shroud and coffin, and some pipes, and tobacco, and snuff. Sheets were hung up in a corner of the barn, and the poor corpse was shaved and washed, and provided with a clean shirt, before he was laid on a table in the same corner and covered with a sheet.
Two or three large, roughly coloured wood prints of devout subjects were pinned on the sheets, and candlesticks, trimmed with coloured paper and furnished with candles, were provided. One or two persons relieved each other during daylight, to keep watch and ward off any evil. Of course, any poor neighbour who was cursed with a taste for tobacco smoke was only too ready for this duty, but the approach of darkness brought company enough, more indeed than were benefitted by the social duty.
The brave old patriarch Peter rested comfortably in his own chair and was talking intently to two or three of his neighbours, as old as himself, on the old chronicles of Castleton. We had paid little attention to his legends and tales, and we are now sorry enough for our inattention. On this occasion the hero of his story was a certain Squire Heaton, who, it appears, was the possessor of the Castleton demesne in some former age, and a terrible blackguard he must have been. He was employed in some fierce argument or other with his neighbours or tenants, we cannot now remember which, about a certain common, overgrown with furze bushes. It was, in fact, a large hill, which gave shelter to hundreds of hares and rabbits, and as the Squire would not give way to the demand made on him about the hill, the party collected and set fire to it on a fine summer evening.
Big Peter described, in a most graphic manner, the effect of the fire seen from the country round and about, all the poor hares and rabbits running for their lives, with their fur all scorched, and their eyes nearly burned out of their heads, and themselves falling into the hands of the crowds that kept watch at the edge of the burning mass. This reminiscence drew on others connected with matters that had taken place before the Rebellion, and while everyone was so engaged Eddie, Brian, and Charlie entered the room, reverently uncovering their heads, and reciting the ‘De Profundis’, verse and response. At the end they put their hats back on their heads and approached the elderly group.
A granddaughter of Peter’s and Mrs O’Brien’s servant girl, Joanna, a rattling young girl, came in with them, and after the psalm joined the ‘Big Peter’s’ womenfolk in the house, who occupied seats near the table. The older people, not willing to lose any of their usual hours of rest, began to leave, after having nearly exhausted all the interesting topics of the locality. But it was not long until a considerable amount of more lively conversation, of more interest to the younger portion of the company, began to develop itself among the various groups, two or three of the chief families keeping together near the table, as has been said.
At last a request came from a young woman in this group to Mr. Edmond, that he would entertain them with a song. Never being a man that was troubled with bashfulness, he immediately agreed, merely asking one of the little boys to bring a young cat from the kitchen to walk down his throat and clear away the cobwebs. He warned his audience that his song was useful to anyone thinking of paying a visit to the sites of Dublin.
” THE CONNAUGHT MAN AT THE REVIEW.
” With a neat house and garden, I live at my ease,
But all worldly pleasures my mind cannot please.
To friends and to neighbours I bid them adieu,
And I pegged off to Dublin to see the review.
Chorus – Laddly, ta ral lal, ta ral lal, lee.
” With trembling expectations, to the town I advanced,
Till I met with a soup-maker’s cellar by chance,
Where I saw hogs’ puddings, cows’ heels, and fat tripes.
And that delicate sight
” I stood in amaze, and I viewed them all o’er
The mistress espied me and came to her door.
‘ Step in, if you please, there is everything nice.
You shall have a good dinner at a reasonable price.’
“I tumbled downstairs, and I took off my hat.
And immediately down by the fireside I sat.
In less than five minutes she brought me a plate
Overflowing with potatoes, white cabbage, and meat.
” Says she, it was in Leitrim I was born and bred,
And can accommodate you to a very good bed.’
I thanked her, and straightway to bed I did fly,
Where I lay as snug as a pig in a sty.
“In less than five minutes my sides they grew hard,
For every feather it measured a yard.
A regiment of black boys my poor corpse overspread,
And insisted they’d tumble me out of the bed.
“I slept there all night until clear day-light,
And immediately called for my bill upon sight,
Says she, ‘as we both are come from the one town,
And besides old acquaintance, I’ll charge but a crown.’
” Oh, that is too much now, and conscience to boot;’
So, between she and I there arose a dispute.
To avoid the dispute, and to soon put an end,
She out for the police her daughter did send.
“In the wink of an eye I was sorely confounded
To see my poor body so sadly surrounded.
I thought they were mayors, or peers of the land,
With their long coats, and drab capes, and guns in their hands.
“‘Gentlemen,’ says I, ‘I’m a poor, honest man:
Before in my life I was never trepanned.’
‘ Come, me good fellow! Come pay for the whole,
Or else you will be the first man in the goal.’
“I paid the demand, and I bid her adieu,
And was off to the Park for to see the review.
Where a soldier he gave me a rap of his gun,
And bid me run home, for the white eyes were done.
“‘My good fella,’ says I, ‘had I you where I know,
I’d make you full Bore to repent of that blow.’
At the hearing of this, in a passion he flew,
And his long carving knife on me poor head he drew.
There were three or four verses more, but the readers are probably content with the quantity furnished. There was clucking of tongues against palates at the mention of the roguish tricks of the Dublin dealers. But a carrier in company cleared the city-born folk of some of the bad reputation alleged by the song and pronounced country people who had made good their standing in Dublin for a few years, to be the greatest cheats in the kingdom.
Mr. Edmond, having now a right to call someone up, summoned Joanna, the servant maid, previously mentioned, to show what she could do. Joanna, though very ready with her tongue at home, was at heart a modest girl, and fought hard to be let off. But one protested that she was a good singer, in right of a lark’s heel she had, but this was not the case, for Joanna had a neat foot. Another said that she was taught to sing by note when Tone, the dancing-master made his last round through the country, another said, that he heard herself and a young kid sing verse about one day when nobody was within hearing.
So, poor Joan, to get rid of the torment, asked what song they would like her to sing for them, and a dozen voices requested a love song about murder. So, after looking down, with a blushing face, for a while, she began with an unsteady voice, but she was soon under the influence of the subject and sung with a sweet voice one of these old English ballads, which we heard for the first time from a young woman of the Barony of Bardon, in the south.
There is another song on the same subject in some collection which we cannot at this remember at this moment. But Joanna’s version is evidently a faulty one. It has suffered from transmission through generations of negligent vocalists and now it is not easy to give it an original period of time.
“‘Come, comb your head, Fair Eleanor,
And comb it on your knee,
And that you may look maiden-like
Till my return to thee.’
“”Tis hard for me to look maiden-like,
When maiden I am none:
Seven fair sons I’ve borne to thee,
And the eighth lies in my womb.’
”Seven long years were past and gone.
Fair Eleanor thought it long.
She went up into her bower,
With her silver cane in hand.
“She looked far, she looked near,
She looked upon the strand.
And it’s there she spied King William a-coming,
And his new bride by the hand.
“She then called up her seven sons,
By one, by two, by three.
‘ I wish that you were seven greyhounds,
This night to worry me! ‘
“‘Oh, say not so our mother dear,
But put on your golden pall,
And go and throw open your wide, wide gates,
And welcome the nobles all.’
” So, she threw off her gown of green.
She put on her golden pall,
She went and threw open her wide, wide gates,
And welcomed the nobles all.
” ‘ Oh, welcome, lady fair! ‘ she said.
‘ You’re welcome to your own.
And welcome be these nobles all
That come to wait on you home.’
” ‘ Oh, thankee, thankee, Fair Eleanor!
And many thanks to thee.
And if in this bower I do remain,
Great gifts I’ll bestow on thee.’
” She served them up, she served them down,
She served them all with wine,
But still she drank of the clear spring water,
To keep her colour fine.
“She served them up, she served them down.
She served them in the hall.
But still she wiped off the salt, salt tears,
As they from her did fall.
” Well bespoke the bride so gay,
As she sat in her chair—
‘And tell to me, King William,’ she said,
‘ Who is this maid so fair?
” ‘ Is she of your kith, ‘ she said,
‘ Or is she of your kin,
Or is she your comely housekeeper
That walks both out and in’
” ‘ She is not of my kith,’ he said,
‘ Nor is she of my kin.
But she is my comely housekeeper
That walks both out and in.’
‘\’ Who then was your father,’ she said,
‘ Or who then was your mother 1
Had you any sister dear,
Or had you any brother 1 ‘
” ‘ King Henry was my father,’ she said,
‘ Queen Margaret was my mother,
Matilda was my sister dear,
Lord Thomas was my brother.’
” ‘ King Henry was your father,’ she said,
Queen Margaret, your mother,
1 am your only sister dear.
And here’s Lord Thomas, our brother.
” ‘ Seven lofty ships I have at sea,
All filled with beaten gold.
Six of them I’ll leave with thee,
The seventh will bear me home.’ “
The usual interruptions arising from new visitors entering had occurred several times during these relaxations, with the last visitor being a young giant of a man called Tom Sweeney. He was a labourer on the farm of young Roche, and an admirer of the songstress of Fair Eleanor, who, if she returned his affection, took special care to conceal the fact from the eyes of their acquaintance. Tom was as naïve a young man as there was anywhere in the county, and Peter O’Brien called on him to give a song. But the young man could think of nothing else to sing but the lamentation of a young girl for the absence of her lover.
” THE SAILOR BOY.
“‘Oh, the sailing trade is a weary life.
It robs fair maids of their hearts’ delight,
Which causes me for to sigh and mourn,
For fear my true love will ne’er return.
“’The grass grows green upon yonder lea,
The leaves are budding from ev’ry spray,
The nightingale in her cage will sing
To welcome Willy home to crown the spring.
“’ I’ll build myself a little boat.
And o’er the ocean I mean to float:
From every French ship that do pass by,
I’ll inquire for Willy, that bold sailing boy.’
“She had not sailed a league past three
Till a fleet of French ships, she chanced to meet.
‘ Come tell me, sailors, and tell me true,
If my love Willy sails on board with you.’
“‘Indeed, fair maid, your love is not here,
But he is drowned by this we fear.
‘It was your green island that we passed by,
There we lost Willy, that bold sailing boy.’
“She wrung her hands and she tore her hair
Just like a lady that was in despair.
Against the rock her little boat she run—
‘How can I live, and my true love gone? ‘
“Nine months after, this maid was dead,
And this note found on her bed’s head.
How she was satisfied to end her life,
Because she was not a bold sailor’s wife.
“‘Dig my grave both large and deep,
Deck it over with lilies sweet,
And on my headstone cut a turtledove,
To signify that I died for love.’ “
It is probable that the sentiments of this ballad will not produce similar feelings in our readers. It was not the case with the younger portion of Tom’s audience, for he sung it with much feeling. He was, indeed, a sincere young fellow, besides being a lover.
It would be a little boring, except to those with an interest in such things, if I was to let you read many more of the songs which were sung there. If truth be told, there were few that could be distinguished by them possessing genuine poetry or good taste. The people who were there were not so lucky and had to hear “The sailor who courted a farmer’s daughter, that lived convenient to the Isle of Man.” That was followed by the merry song called “The Wedding of Ballyporeen,” which caused the audience to laugh loudly, although they had heard it many times heard before. Then there were popular tunes such as, “The Boy with the Brown Hair,” “The Red-haired Girl,” “Sheela na Guira,” and “The Cottage Maid.” Laments and Ballads about lost loves and promising romantic futures, which were popular and encouraged the audience to join in. But, at last, some of those gathered began to demonstrate by their manner and gestures, that they had heard enough sweet singing, and O’Brien, and Roche, and Redmond, were invited to get up and perform the wake-house drama of ‘Old Dowd and his Daughters’, which would help them to hold out against the stale air in the room and the want of sleep.
The young men did not exhibit too good a sense of the moral fitness of things, since they were not normally disposed to vice, in private or in public. It was custom that influenced them to think that what was harmless at other times and in other places could be looked on as harmless at a wake. So, Charles at once assumed took his place as stage manager and assumed the role of Old Dowd with a daughter he needed to dispose of. He set the blushing and giggling Joanna on a chair beside him, Tom Sweeney, and two or three other young men on a bench at his other side, cleared an open space in front, procured a good stick for himself and each of his sons, and awaited the approach of the expected suitor.
O’Brien and Roche had gone out, and on their return were to be looked on, the first as the suitor, a caustic poet, who makes himself welcome at rich farmers’ houses by satirizing their neighbours, and the second as his horse, whose forelegs were represented by the man’s arms, and a stool firmly grasped in his hands. Roche’s election to this role was determined by his size and great strength. Finally, amid the most profound silence the performance of “Old Dowd and his Daughters” began—
OLD DOWD AND HIS DAUGHTERS.
[Present: Old Dowd, his marriageable daughter, Sheela, and his six sons. Enter poetic suitor, appropriately mounted. Father and sons eye the pair with much contempt.]
Old Dowd: Who is this, mounted on his old carthorse, coming to disturb us at this hour of the night? What kind of a tramp or traveller are you? for I don’t think we can give you a lodging, sir, and you must go on farther.
Suitor:I’m not an honest man, no more than you are yourself, you old sinner, and I don’t want a room. I’m seeking a cure for life’s troubles. In plain words, a wife who can be with me for the rest of my life on this earth. Are you lucky enough to be able to help me, for you won’t ever get another chance to make a more high-bred connection as myself? My grandfather owned seven townlands, and let more property slip through his fingers than the whole seed, breed, and generation of the Dowds possessed since Adam was a boy. Come on, are you ready for me?
Father of Bride: Aye, and what property have you got?
Suitor:A lawsuit that’s to be decided on day before Christmas Eve. If I gain it, I’ll get fifty acres of land on the side of the mountain at a pound an acre. If I lose, they can only put me in the jail. Come on, now, let us see the bride. But, first, as they used to say at the siege of Troy, let us know your breeding and bloodline.
Father.Here I am, Old Dowd, with his six sons. Himself makes seven, four more would be eleven, and hurrah, brave boys.”
At this point of the conference the patriarch flourished his stick, and aimed a few blows at the steed and rider, more, however, in courtesy than resentment. The suitor warded the strokes with some skill and gave a tap or two to his father-in-law elect. He at last setting his weapon upright and the argument ceased.
Father: Come now, I see that you are not altogether unworthy to enter the family of the Dowds. What’s your profession? How do you earn your bread? I won’t send out my dear Sheela to live on the neighbours.
Suitor: I’m a poet and live by the weaknesses of mankind.
Father: Och, what kind of trade is that? Your coat is white at the seams. Is that some sort of vest or is it a real shirt you have on you? How many meals a day do you get? Everyone knows the saying, ‘as poor as a poet’.
Suitor:Then I think three-quarters of the people about here must be in the same trade. If you were to be a father-in-law to me, then learn to be mannerly, Old Dowd. I scorn a vest, except when my old shirt is worn out, and my new one has not come from the seamstress, and if I could find an appetite, I might eat seven meals a day. I stop at a gentleman- farmer’s and repeat a few verses that I said for against a neighbour for his stinginess to one of the old-stock of the Muldoons, and a poet besides. And don’t myself and my steed live like fighting cocks, and the man of the house not daring to sneeze for fear of getting into a new a bad verse about himself. Is this my bride? Oh, the darling girl, I must make a verse in her praise off the top of my head, for if I was Homer, that noble poet, I’d sing your praises in verses sweet. Or Alexander, that bold commander, I’d lay my trophies down at your feet.”
“Venerable head of the Clan Dowd, my intended looks a little hot. I hope it wasn’t with the pot-rag she wiped her face this morning. Old Dowd, you’ll have to shell out something decent for soap. The young lady’s name is Sheela, you say. She’s not the same Miss Sheela, I hope! You know that Pat Cox, the shoemaker, was lately courting?
Father:You vagabond of a poet, do you think I’d demean the old kings of Leinster, my forefathers, by taking into my family a greasy shoemaker?
Suitor: I only asked a civil question. Pat met his darling one day, as she was binding after the reapers, and asked when she’d let him take her measure for a pair of new shoes. “No time like the present time,” says she, and off she kicked her right foot pump. Her nails were a trifle long and her lovely toes were peeping out through the worsted stockings. If there was anything between the same toes it wouldn’t be polite to mention it. So bewildered was the love-sick fool by the privilege conferred on him, that he felt in his own mind, that a prolonged communication would not be good for the peace of heart. So, the shoes are not yet made, and Pat’s nearest residence is in the village of Derrymore.
Father: And do you dare, you foul-mouthed blackguard, to cast insinuations on the delicate habits of my dear child? Take this for your reward.
Sympathetic Sons:And this … and this.”
And now began a neat cudgel-skirmish between the main contracting parties. The angry father not only struck at the evil-tongued suitor, but also whacked at the inoffensive horse. The suitor warded the blows from his trusty horse as well as he could, but still one or two made impressions on the more sensitive portions of his body, and the sons with their wooden sticks added to his overall discomfort. So, the noble animal, feeling his patience rapidly diminishing, executed a half-jump, and applying the hoof of his off hind leg to the bench on which the old gentleman and his sons were sitting in state, he overturned them with little effort, and their heads and backs made sore acquaintance with the wall and floor.
This disagreeable incident, and the still unconquered difficulties, stopped the further prosecution of the suit, and amid rubbing of sore spots, scratching of heads, and howls of laughter from all parts of the room, they set about another match with Peter’s grand-daughter being obliged to sit for the next blushing bride. In this second act, Redmond came in as a wooer, bestriding Tom Sweeney, His cue was to have nothing of the poet or the vagrant hanging to his skirts. He was the miserly, careful tradesman of country life. O’Brien represented Old Dowd.
Thrifty Suitor:God save all here! Look here, I want a wife, and no more about it. Have you got one available?
Father:To be sure we have! Who are you if you please?
Thrifty Suitor: I’m not ashamed of my name nor of my business. I’m a brogue-maker to my trade, and my name’s Mick Kinsella, and I’m not short of a few pounds in my pocket, not like that scare-crow, Denny Muldoon, that’ll be obliged to throw his large cloak over his bride to keep her from freezing with the cold in the honeymoon. I won’t have Miss Sheela; you may depend on it.
Father:Indeed, I think you’re right, Mick-the Brogue. That dear girl was a little untidy, still she wasn’t without her good points. But she would persist in wiping the plates with the cat’s tail when the dishcloth was not at hand, and I’m afraid that her husband won’t be known by the whiteness of his shirt collar at the chapel. Well, well, we won’t speak ill of the absent. But here, you son of a turned pump, is the flower of the flock for you. Here’s one that will put a genteel stamp on your stand of brogues at a fair or market. By the way, the shoemakers don’t associate with you, men of the leather strip. They don’t look on you as tradesmen. What shabby pride! Begging your pardon, Mick, what property have you, and what do you intend to leave to your widow? After all, no one can say to your face that you married out of a frolic of youth. You’re turned fifty, I think.
Thrifty Suitor: No, I am not, Old Dowd! I am only pushing forty-five, and I have neither a red nose nor a shaky hand, Old Dowd. And I hope Mrs. Kinsella won’t be at the expense of a widow’s cap for thirty years to come, Old Dowd. But not to make an ill answer, I have three hundred red guineas under the thatch. And now tell me what yourself will lay down on the nail the day your daughter changes her name.
Father:Well, well, the impudence of some people stings! Isn’t it enough, and more than enough, to get a young woman of birth, that has book-learning and reads novels? And you, you big jackass, don’t you think but your bread will be baked the day she condescends to take the vulgar name of Kinsella? Why, man, the meaning of the word is “Dirty Head.” An old king of Leinster got it for killing a priest.
Thrifty Suitor: I don’t care a pig’s bristle for your notions and grand ideas. Give me an answer if you please.
Father: Oh, dear, dear, Old Dowd! Did you ever think you would live long enough to hear your genteel and accomplished daughter, Miss Biddy Dowd, called by the vile name of Biddy -the-Brogue?
Thrifty Suitor: Now, none of your impudence, you overbearing and immoral old toper! I want a wife to keep things snug at home, and make me comfortable, and not let me be cheated by my servants and workmen. You say that Biddy reads novels and, maybe when the ploughmen come in at noon, they’ll only find the praties put down over a bad fire, and the mistress crying over a greasy-covered book in the corner. To the Devil with all the novels in the world.
The Dowds (father and sons):This ignorant gobshite never went as far as the “Principles of Politeness ” in the “Universal Spelling-book.” Let us administer the youth a little of hazel-oil to make his joints supple and teach him some manners!”
Then another battle of arms took place, in which some skilful play was shown with the sticks, and several sound thumps were given and received, to the great delight and edification of the assembly.
Thrifty Suitor: Now that these few compliments are over, what is to be the fortune of Biddy, I beg a thousand pardons, Miss Biddy Dowd, I mean?
Father:Isn’t her face fortune enough for you, you vulgar man? Do you think nothing of the respectability of having her sitting on a pillion behind you going to fair or market to work after you, with her green silk gown and quilted purple petticoat, and her bright orange shawl? Ah, you lucky thief! Won’t you have the crowd of young fellows around you, bargaining for your ware, and inviting Mrs. Kinsella to a glass of punch? I think, instead of expecting a fortune, you should give a big bag of money for being let into my family.
Thrifty Suitor: Old Dowd, all your bluster isn’t worth a cast-off brogue. Mention a decent sum, or back I go to my work. I’m young enough to be married these fifteen years to come.”
Here the father and sons put their heads together, and finally the hard-pressed father named twenty pounds, but the worldly-minded suitor exclaimed against the smallness of the sum and insisted on a hundred. After a series of skilful thrusts and parries, they agreed to split the difference, and the candidate was asked whether he preferred to receive it in quarterly payments or be paid all at once. He inconsiderately named present payment and had soon reason to repent of his haste to become rich, for the dowry descended on himself and his charger in a shower of blows from the tough hazels and blackthorns of his new relatives. After receiving and inflicting several stripes, he shouted out that he was satisfied to give a long day with the balance. And so, with their shoulders and sides sore with blows and laughter, the play came to an end, and much appreciation was shown by the audience both with the action and dialogue, for many in the crowd knew the parties who were represented, and scarcely, if at all, caricatured. Denny Muldoon, and Mick Kinsella, and Biddy-the-Brogue, were well-known under other names.
When the enthusiasm had subsided a little, it being now about one o’clock in the morning, O’Brien, Roche, Edmond, Joanna, and Sweeney withdrew, but not before reciting some prayers before they left the room. When the vacated seats came to be filled, and lately bashful young fellows began to use the tobacco-pipes, which one but the older folk had meddled with before, the hitherto tolerably decent spirit of the society began to evaporate, and confusion and ill manners began to prevail. However, a young fellow, who felt a desire to hear himself sing in company, got some of his supporters to endeavour to quieten the noise, and request him to favour the assembly with a song. The noise did not entirely subside until the first notes were heard, and the dismal style in which the verses were sung needed to be restrained but indifferently.
” THE STREAMS OF BUNCLODY.
“Was I at the moss-house where the birds do increase,
At the foot of Mount Leinster, or some silent place,
At the streams of Bunclody, where all pleasures do meet,
And all I require is one kiss from you, sweet.
” The reason my love slights me, I do understand,
Because she has a freehold and I have no land.
A great store of riches, both Silver and gold,
And everything fitting a house to uphold.
“If I was a clerk who could write a good hand,
I’d write to my true love that she might understand,
That I’m a young man that’s deeply in love,
That lived by Bunclody, and now must remove.
” Adieu my dear father; adieu my dear mother.
Farewell to my sister, and likewise my brother.
I’m going to America, my fortune to try.
When 1 think on Bunclody, I’m ready to die.”
The general feeling at the time was too cynical to relish such a sad song. Several songs were sung, whose composers’ ghosts shall not have the gratification of seeing them here either in substance or name. At last, even the songs, such as they were, began to lose their charm, and games were introduced. The first was played in the following way –
The captain took five assistants, and arranged them in a semicircle, giving to each a name. He then began with a short stick to pound the palm of one to whom the mischance came by lot, keeping a firm hold of his wrist all the time, and naming the troop in this manner “Fabby, Darby Skibby, Donacha the Saddler, Jacob the Farmer, Scour-dish, what’s that man’s name?” He suddenly pointed to one of the group, and if the patient named him on the moment, he was released, and the fellow named was submitted to the handy discipline. If there was the slightest delay about the name, the operator went on as before—”Fibby Fabby, Darby Skibby,” etc., until the poor victim’s fingers were in a sad state.
In the second game a candle was placed on the ground, in the middle of a circle of lads, and all are told to keep their eyes fixed on it, and their hands behind their backs. The captain provided himself with a twisted leathern apron, or something equally unpleasant to be struck with, and walked on the outside of the ring, exclaiming from time to time, “Watch the light, watch the light.” Secretly placing the weapon into the hands of one of the men, he at last cried out, “Use the linger, use the linger;” and this worthy ran round the circle, using it to some purpose on the backs of his playmates. He then became the captain, and in due course delivered the instrument to someone else.
But the most objectionable trick of all was “shooting the buck.” Some person or persons who had not yet seen the performance were essential to its success, as it required a victim or two. The person acting the buck having gone out, the sportsman who was to shoot him required one to three unsuspicious persons to lie in wait inside the door, to catch the animal when falling from the effect of the shot, promising that they should see fine things. All became silent and watchful, and the retrievers were at their post, when the stag appeared in the doorway, a stool on his head, with the feet upturned to represent horns. The huntsman stooped, and squinting along a stick, cried out, “too-oo”! Back fell the animal, and down came the stool, and all the dirt with which the rogue had charged it outside, on the hats and clothes of the raw sportsmen, and great laughter rose from all the throats but theirs.
By this time, it is three or four o’clock, and time for anyone who dreads the terrors of an over-burdened conscience, while he lies passive and stretched out the next morning, to quit the scene of such frivolity. We might here moralize on the inherent evil of the institution, and the number of young men who became hardened in vice by attending wakes, and the number of young women who lost their character thereby, and everything with it, here and hereafter. The evil lay in visiting them at all, for more than a few minutes. It would be out of the question for the best-intentioned to remain in the foul room for the whole night and come out as innocent in the morning as they entered in the evening. Girls with any pretence to good conduct never remained in them beyond the early hours of the night and were always supposed to be there under the guardianship of a brother, cousin, or declared lover. We will say, for the honour of those districts of Ireland that were known to us, that it was rare to hear of a young woman, farmer’s, or cottager’s daughter, of bad character.